How much pressure is on Panthers CB Donte Jackson in 2021?

(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Donte Jackson
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Donte Jackson /

How much pressure is on Carolina Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson ahead of a crucial 2021 season for the player?

There are plenty of players on the Carolina Panthers who have a lot on the line in 2021. This is a season in which much more is expected of a talented group of individuals that got a real shot in the arm thanks to some impressive recruitment during the offseason – the first with new general manager Scott Fitterer at the helm.

They don’t have the hardest schedule in the world, at least on paper. But the Panthers still need to make some considerable strides if they want to surprise some pretty low expectations from national media analysts across the country.

Carolina will be heavily reliant on their defense coming up with the goods. Phil Snow’s unit looks a force to be reckoned with if everything clicks into place, with only a couple of notable weaknesses that could hinder their progress.

One of the defensive players that need to stand up and be counted is Donte Jackson. The cornerback is heading into the final year of his rookie deal and can make himself some serious money next season with further growth on the field.

Jackson has been something of an enigma since the Panthers selected him in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of LSU. There have been some real flashes of brilliance from the player – certainly enough to suggest he can be a shutdown corner – but a frustrating injury history has really impacted his ability to become a consistent contributor.

Donte Jackson must build on a positive end to 2020 with the Carolina Panthers.

This was certainly evident down the stretch in 2020 once Jackson finally overcame a toe problem that bothered him right up until Carolina’s bye in Week 13. His improvements in coverage were there for all to see and this was reflected in a career-high grade of 70.4 from Pro Football Focus.

It’s a solid foundation from which to build. But the corner now has a fight on his hands to maintain his No. 1 status on the depth chart following the arrival of No. 8 overall selection Jaycee Horn.

The South Carolina product has all the makings of an elite performer at the next level. So Jackson needs to prove beyond all doubt he is also a vital cog to any success that comes the team’s way next season and possibly beyond.

Jackson’s role as a starter is unquestioned. And the Panthers could have a productive cornerback trio with Horn and free-agent signing A.J. Bouye also on the roster.

However, if some injury complications emerge once again and Horn hits the ground running, it’s going to become a big problem when Jackson’s representatives head to the bargaining table this spring.

The Panthers let the likes of Josh Norman and James Bradberry leave for big-money deals. Something they’d later come to regret.

Time is on their side, at least for now, when it comes to a potential extension for Jackson. There is also the possibility of placing the franchise tag on him at a projected cost of $17.53 million, according to Over the Cap.

What comes next is entirely up to Jackson. If he can stay healthy and display the sort of form we witnessed over the final few games of 2020, the Panthers would be wise to keep him around.

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However, if the same problems emerge and Jackson’s production suffers as a result, this might just be his final year in Carolina.