FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- You need an interception? Well, you've come to the right place as there's no player hotter in the NFL right now at picking off opposing quarterbacks than J.C. Jackson. Just before halftime of Sunday night's 23-17 win over the Ravens, the Patriots corner was able to leap in front of a Lamar Jackson pass intended for Marquise Brown and create the turnover, giving him five in as many games. That's not only a franchise record for New England, but Jackson is the only player in the last five seasons to go on such a streak.
"That's a tough question," Jackson said when asked what his secret is. "I mean, I'm a playmaker, man. I know how to play the ball pretty well. I feel like I become the receiver. When I go up for the ball, I become the receiver and I make a play on the ball, every chance I get."
The 24-year-old, who now has six interceptions on the season, is looked at as one of the brightest up-and-coming players the Patriots have to offer. His rise to prominence carries with even more weight when you attach the uncertain future of Stephon Gilmore alongside it. While signed through 2021, Gilmore will likely be looking for a contract restructure this offseason that puts him more aligned with the elite corners in the NFL. Because of Gilmore's age (he turns 31 next season), extending him at top dollar may not be something Bill Belichick and the Patriots brass will want to entertain, which then opens up the possibility of the two sides moving on this spring.
Naturally, that is more palatable with a legit corner already in-house, which is why Jackson's play this season is encouraging for the long haul along with the here and now. While he has gone through his highs (five-game interception streak) and lows (allowing two touchdowns vs. New York in Week 9), the young corner has the potential of evolving into a true No. 1 corner.
With all that said, Jackson, who is at the end of his rookie contract, is set to become a restricted free agent this offseason, which puts New England on the doorstep of another decision in the secondary. If a long-term deal isn't agreed upon prior to free agency, the first-round tender is likely Jackson's fate. Under that circumstance, the Patriots would have the flexibility to match any offer that comes Jackson's way and if they decide to pass, they'd acquire a first-round pick. Given how well he's played throughout his young career coupled with his age (he's still 24 by the start of next season), the Patriots would most likely lean on the side of keeping him around for the foreseeable future, rather than roll the dice on the unpredictability of that first rounder.
Regardless, they are looking at quite the asset in Jackson as they move forward into this new era and it seemingly only gets more promising with each passing week.