There’s a sheet in Bears safety Eddie Jackson’s locker that reminds him what greatness looks like every day. It details what the best safeties in history did in their third year, and that’s his target going into this season.
One name on the page stands out to Jackson and most safeties of his generation is Hall of Famer Ed Reed. After a nearly three-hour practice Tuesday, when probably the only thing on his mind was getting some water, he recited the statistics from Reed’s 2004 All-Pro season with no hesitation.
“I’m working on that to see what I need to do — What’s the goal?” Jackson said. “I think Ed Reed had nine interceptions, a touchdown and 70-something tackles. That’s something I want to shoot for.”
Imagine what went through Jackson’s mind last season when he tweeted about Reed being the greatest of all-time and Reed replied, “You on deck.”
It’ll be tough to keep pace with Reed, who ranks seventh with 64 picks, but Jackson has as good of a shot as anyone in the NFL. At 25, he has established himself as one of the league’s most feared defensive playmakers and earned an All-Pro selection last season with six interceptions, including two for touchdowns, and 15 pass breakups.
That landmark season marked a rapid rise from being a fourth-round selection, the 13th safety chosen in his draft class, to the forefront of the Bears’ defense. No one overlooks him these days.
When opposing play-callers and quarterbacks scout this team, Jackson is probably second only to Khalil Mack on their list of concerns.
“He’s a ballhawk,” coach Matt Nagy said. “He understands what he’s doing. I love his confidence and the way he plays. He’s shown other teams that they need to know where he’s at.”
Jackson doesn’t reflect on his journey much because he doesn’t believe he has made it far enough to have that type of perspective. He feels he’s still on his way up, scrapping to make a name for himself like he always has.
He doesn’t think of himself as the best safety in the league, either, even though there’s a good case for that. He clicks through highlights of veterans Earl Thomas, Eric Berry, Tyrann Mathieu and Reshad Jones, as well as contemporaries Jamal Adams and Derwin James.
He often ends up back on videos of Reed, though. On a recent night at home, Jackson said he rewatched the preseason game against the Giants, then pulled up footage of Reed and former Bears All-Pro Mike Brown.
“When I can stop studying film on them and play the game that I want to play, then I can consider myself the best,” Jackson said. “I just want to see what I can get better at and tune up. I watch clips of Ed Reed and Mike Brown to keep my mind refreshed on the great things they did and how I can improve.”
One thing Jackson has in common with both of those safeties is the benefit of a tremendous pass rush playing in front of him.
The Bears’ defensive front was good in 2017, but Jackson noticed a significant difference when Mack came aboard at the start of last season. Mack is in the opposing quarterback’s head before he snaps the ball and can alter the play in an instant by breaking into the backfield.
Jackson saw the ball coming out quicker and with worse judgment. When opposing quarterbacks are making bad decisions, safeties feast.
“Coming out there with the guys we’ve got on defense, I feel dangerous,” Jackson said. “For us to know what we have up front . . . it makes the job easier. You go out there and take care of your box and make plays.”