USC Sports

Adoree’ Jackson declares for NFL draft, skipping his senior season at USC

USC defensive back Adoree' Jackson celebrates after the Trojans beat Penn State in the Rose Bowl game, 52-49, on Jan. 2.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Before Monday, deadline day to declare for the NFL draft, USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson had revealed little about his decision.

His Twitter account had become fodder for amateur sleuths.

Jackson tweeted often about attending class when the semester began — a score for his returning. Then he tweeted cryptically about how he’d be treated if he left early, an indication he was considering such a move. A few days after receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster announced on Jan. 7 that he would forego his senior season, Jackson posted, “He left me man.. he’s gone,” then attached a crying emoji.

Eventually, Jackson caught on and cautioned his followers not to read too much into anything he posted. He’d make an official announcement in time.

On Monday, he did. Jackson announced on Twitter that he would enter the NFL draft, forgoing his senior season at USC.

He became the third USC underclassmen this off-season to enter the draft, joining receiver Smith-Schuster and guard Damien Mama.

Jackson is expected to be a high-round draft pick.

"I made the best decision of my life when I chose to come to USC,” Jackson posted. “And finishing it off with a Rose Bowl win is one of the best ways I could have ever hoped for it to end."

The decision represents a significant loss for USC, which, after its Rose Bowl victory, was expected to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff next season.

Jackson won the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s best defensive back. His absence will be even more difficult to fill on special teams. Jackson had four return touchdowns last season: two on kickoffs and two on punts.

USC’s game against Notre Dame best captured his rare ability to change games. The contest was disjointed early, and USC struggled to gain control. Then Jackson took over. He scored on a punt return. He scored on a swing pass on offense. Then he scored on a kickoff return, finishing with a flourish when he leaped the kicker along the sideline.

Jack Jones is the early favorite to replace Jackson at cornerback. The Trojans have no easy replacement for Jackson’s return ability — perhaps no team anywhere does.

Receiver Deontay Burnett could assume punt return duties. He returned four punts last season for 26 yards.

Jackson spent a long time contemplating his decision. One part of his calculation may have been determining whether NFL evaluators viewed him as a bona-fide cornerback option or just a return specialist. Despite winning the Thorpe Award, Jackson had lapses as a cornerback. He gave up seven touchdowns last season and often relied on his speed to make up for small coverage mistakes.

The Rose Bowl game showed one of the perils of staying. Jackson nearly scored after an offensive reception, intercepted a pass on defense and busted several returns to the verge of big gains.

But in the third quarter, Jackson was tackled awkwardly, and clutched his leg. Eventually, he hobbled off with an ankle injury. He contemplated returning to the game but the injury showed that even those as gifted as Jackson are not invulnerable to football’s risks.

"After the Rose Bowl, I had many thoughts running through my head,” Jackson wrote. “What was on my mind was that nothing is guaranteed in life and to take advantage of every opportunity that is put in front of you."

Twitter: @zhelfand

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand