Cornerback Adoree' Jackson, a Jim Thorpe Award winner and USC's all-time leader in kick return yards, announced Monday that he will forego his senior season and enter the 2017 NFL Draft.
"After the Rose Bowl, I had many thoughts going through my head," Jackson wrote in a letter he posted on his Twitter account. "What was on my mind is that nothing is guaranteed in life and to take advantage of every opportunity that is put in front of you."
Having infused the Coliseum with unparalleled excitement for the better part of the last three years, Jackson joins offensive lineman Damien Mama and wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster as the three eligible juniors to leave early and declare for the pros.
“It’s been an incredible three years playing for one of the greatest traditions in college football,” Jackson said. “I made the best decision of my life when I chose to come to USC.”
Jackson, a 2016 consensus All-American, has been USC's best all-around player these past two seasons, locking down opposing wide receivers on a consistent basis, but making his impact felt, more often than not, on special teams.
In his first season at USC, Jackson was used on defense, offense and special teams in eight of his 13 games. In 2015, Jackson had his biggest offensive output and caught 27 balls for 414 yards and two touchdowns, all while starting all 13 games on defense as well. In 2016, Jackson focused mostly on defense, starting all 13 games at cornerback on his way to winning the Thorpe Award.
Yet when USC faithful look back on Jackson's career, what they will remember will be the times when the opposing team inexplicably kicked the ball to him on either kickoffs or punts. As the lone return man, Jackson bobbed, weaved and sped by defenders with an ease and swiftness that left coverage teams in shambles and fans wide-eyed with wonder.
In his three years as a Trojan, Jackson not only gained more yards in the return game than any other USC player (1,779), but he also scored eight touchdowns on both punt and kickoff returns combined. He also scored six touchdowns on offense and one on defense after an interception.
Jackson's crowning jewel as football's version of a five-tool player was his game this season against Notre Dame. In it, he totaled 291 all-purpose yards and scored a touchdown via a punt return, a touchdown via a kickoff return and a touchdown via a reception. The game propelled Jackson into some late-season Heisman talk, but he did not make the list of either five finalists, nor the list of Top 10 candidates.
Jackson's return would have made him a possible Heisman contender heading into next season alongside fellow teammate and quarterback Sam Darnold. His impact would have also made USC a far more dangerous team in their quest for the national championship.
“…Finishing it off with a Rose Bowl win is one of the best ways I could have ever hoped for it to end.” – Adoree’ Jackson
In that Rose Bowl victory, Jackson injured his ankle and had to sit out the final quarter—a possible factor in not wanting that instance to be his final game in cardinal and gold.
Yet at cornerback, USC won't hurt much in replacing him. Five-star recruit and soon-to-be sophomore Jack Jones should slide into the starting cornerback position having already played in all 13 games this season as a freshman. Rising junior Iman Marshall should now take on the role of guarding the opposing team's best receiver as well.
In the return game, it will be a combination of Jones, Deontay Burnett and the returning Steven Mitchell who will try and replicate the impact Jackson had when returning kicks and punts.
For Jackson, his NFL prospects are high, as some scouts have identified him as an "instant-impact" type of player. However, mock drafts are not consistent with this belief.
Walter Football's early mock draft has Jackson as the penultimate pick in the first round, heading to the Dallas Cowboys. Pro Football Focus, meanwhile, has Jackson out of the first round altogether. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller projects Jackson to be the 60th overall pick in the draft.
Wherever Jackson lands in the NFL, he boasts a collegiate stat line that all but guarantees he will have an impact. The eye test alone has already shown to prove that Jackson is also able to give a team an infusion of energy on the field as well as he can provide it off the field. All they have to do is give him the ball and watch him go.
For three years, Jackson has terrorized coverage teams in college, and now, opposing NFL teams will be tasked with creating a simple scouting report on him that should truly have only one mandate: Never kick it to him.