How Can Adoree’ Jackson Win the Heisman Trophy?


What would it take for Adoree’ Jackson to follow in Charles Woodson’s footsteps and win the Heisman Trophy as a predominantly defensive player?

In the nearly 80 year history of the Heisman Trophy, a defensive player has won the award just once. Could Adoree’ Jackson become the second defender to achieve such a feat?

If ever a Trojan had the skillset to do so, Jackson has it. He is a distinguished cornerback, a dangerous kick returner and a deadly offensive weapon.

Widely considered one of the most versatile players in the game today, Jackson also boasts a strong national profile entering his junior season.

So what would it take for the three-way star to make his way to New York and return with the statue?

Matching Charles Woodson’s Heisman production as the only defender to successfully pull it off?

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Surpassing LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu’s sensational sophomore season in 2011 as the last player of a similar style to come close?

It’s all about timing.

Why? Because believe it or not, Jackson has already proven capable of matching Woodson and Mathieu’s numbers.

From a production standpoint, it wouldn’t take much more from Jackson to replicate Woodson’s Heisman season.

In 1997, the Wolverine cornerback logged 44 tackles, five tackles for loss, nine deflections, and eight interceptions on defense. As a receiver, he caught 12 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns. As a return man, he fielded 36 punts for 301 yards, for an average of 8.4 yards per return, and one touchdown.

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Jackson logged 49 tackles, four tackles for loss and 10 deflections as a freshman in 2014. He also added three receiving touchdowns on 10 catches, and twice returned kickoffs for touchdowns, while finishing with 684 return yards.

As a sophomore, Jackson’s defensive numbers dipped slightly, down to 35 tackles and eight deflections, but he returned his first and only career interception for a game-winning touchdown at Cal.

He scored four more touchdowns –two as a receiver and two as a punt returner– while his offensive footprint grew, catching 27 passes.

It’s readily apparent that the only thing keeping Jackson from standing up to Woodson’s production is interceptions, which is no small thing for a cornerback.

Where Jackson has just one career pick, Woodson had 18 for Michigan throughout his career, with nearly half of those coming as a junior.

Granted, interceptions are not the end all and be all of a cornerback’s role.

Mathieu had just four interceptions in his career, and just two during his run at the Heisman in 2011.

Statistically, Jackson is well within Mathieu’s reach as well.

The LSU cornerback had nine deflections. While he didn’t play on offense, he returned 27 punts for an average of 15.6 yards per return, and scored two touchdowns.

Turnovers are game-changing moments and a Heisman candidate –whether on offense or defense– must be a game changer.

Learning from Woodson and Mathieu’s example, Jackson doesn’t need to do much more when it comes to receiving and returns. He simply needs to maintain the level he’s been at since arriving on campus.

What he must improve is on the turnover front. 

Turnovers are game-changing moments and a Heisman candidate –whether on offense or defense– must be a game changer.

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By comparison, Jackson has forced just three turnovers in two years as a Trojan.

Which takes us to the crux of the matter: Timing is everything.

Woodson didn’t win the Heisman and Mathieu didn’t become a Heisman finalist because of their numbers. They achieved what they did because of their moments.

Coming up big against the 15th-ranked Michigan State Spartans, Michigan’s bitter rivals, Woodson made a memorable one-handed interception on the sideline late in the third quarter of a one-score game to help seal the victory.

In the final game of the season and once again facing a high profile rival, this time No. 4 Ohio State, Woodson helped set up the Michigan’s first score with a 37-yard reception, returned a punt for a touchdown and then had a second half interception in the endzone to end the Buckeye’s comeback attempt.

That game won him the Heisman.

Mathieu produced similar moments to earn a spot in New York.

He returned a fumble for a touchdown in the season opener against No. 4 Oregon, then grabbed an interception against No. 17 West Virginia in late September.

However, it was two exceptional outings to end the season which solidified his name among the Heisman contenders.

First, against No. 5 Arkansas, he forced two fumbles –recovering one– and returned a punt for a touchdown.

A week later in the SEC Championship game versus No. 19 Georgia, Mathieu returned yet another punt for a pivotal score which turned the tide in LSU’s favor after trailing by double digits.

He followed that up with a fumble recovery to set up the go-ahead Tiger score before ripping off an electric punt return setting the stage for the LSU touchdown which give his team complete control of the game

Though it didn’t win him the Trophy, Mathieu’s performance got him closer than most defenders ever come. And even then he finished fifth in the voting.

The good news for Jackson, is that no one in the country will have more opportunities to make big plays on the biggest stage than USC this year.

The Trojans face the toughest schedule in nation with marquee tilts against Alabama, Stanford, Oregon, Washington, UCLA and Notre Dame dotting the schedule.

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Those last four –all in November with a potential Pac-12 Championship game looming– could be particularly important for any Heisman aspirations.

All of that is contingent on Jackson not just stepping up, but standing out at the right time.

Take his three career turnovers to date, for example. Just one of those came in a USC victory.

He forced a fumble against Utah in 2014, but the Trojans allowed a late score by Travis Wilson and lost that game.

His interception returned for a touchdown was the key play in the Trojan victory over Cal in 2015, but that was a day game against an unranked opponent. That’s not the kind of game Heisman voters will be tuning in to see.

His other 2015 turnover came against Notre Dame, when he forced fumble on the goal line to prevent an Irish score, followed by a long touchdown reception.

Unfortunately, USC lost that game and Jackson could just as easily be remembered for the way Will Fuller burned him for a 75-yard touchdown.

Similarly, his second half punt return touchdown at Oregon didn’t spark the come back he might have hoped.

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While highlights are one thing Jackson could use in his Heisman pursuit, a little help from his friends wouldn’t hurt.

Case in point? Mathieu was never the best cornerback on his team.

Both Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne won the Jim Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in college football during Mathieu’s career at LSU.

Woodson’s Michigan team went undefeated in 1997, in large part thanks to a top-tier defense including All-American defensive end Glen Steele.

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The evolution of Iman Marshall from promising freshman to premiere cornerback would go a long way towards helping Jackson, opening up opportunities for the junior to increase his defensive statistics, while also giving the Trojan defense as a whole a better chance of contributing to victories.

A strong pass rush, anchored by a break out season from Porter Gustin, wouldn’t hurt either, preventing quarterbacks from being too comfortable and getting the best of a secondary that can only hold for so long.

Essentially, Jackson would need a great number of things to go right to achieve his Heisman aspirations.

But that is true of every player to have ever won that prestigious award.

To win the Heisman, he will need to elevate his game –something well within his control– be at his best when USC needs him most, and hope his teammates and coaches do their part to help get him to New York.