New England Patriots: 3 players that exceeded expectations this season

New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports /
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New England Patriots
J.C. Jackson #27 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

New England Patriots player who exceeded expectations No. 1: J.C. Jackson

It really gets overlooked because of some of the other notable storylines from this season, but J.C. Jackson wasn’t supposed to be the team’s top cornerback coming into the season. The expectation was that Stephon Gilmore would return at some point midway through the season to help reinforce the secondary. Instead, Gilmore got traded to the Carolina Panthers for next to nothing.

While the trade admittedly was horrible for New England, nobody really seemed to mind too much, because Jackson upped his game to another level this season. Jackson followed up his nine interception campaign in 2020 with eight more this season, and he did it all while matching up against the opposing team’s top wideout for the most part. Jackson turned that into his first Pro Bowl appearance and a Second Team All-Pro nod.

You may disagree with this pick, but Jackson stepped up to the plate more than any other player on this roster. Filling Gilmore’s shoes was not going to be an easy job, but Jackson played so well that most Patriots fans forgot that Gilmore was even a part of this team this season. Jackson struggled last season when he had to fill in for Gilmore, but that wasn’t the case this time around.

Opposing quarterbacks posted a 46.8 pass rating when targeting Jackson this season. Considering Jackson was targeted 106 times, that’s an absurdly low number. Jackson led the league with 23 pass deflections too, and he just always seems to have a nose for the ball.

Next. Bill Belichick has some soul searching to do. dark

Jackson’s true breakout season couldn’t have come at a better time, as he is now set to hit unrestricted free agency. Considering how poorly the Patriots secondary played in their most recent loss to the Bills, it’s clear they need to do whatever it takes to keep Jackson in town. Jackson replaced one of the top corners in the game without any aplomb, and now he’s going to get paid for it. Hopefully, it will be New England that ends up signing his checks.