Carolina Panthers

Donte Jackson: Panthers' second-round pick brings speed and swagger to secondary

Former LSU defensive back Donte Jackson here at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine in March in Indianapolis.
Former LSU defensive back Donte Jackson here at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine in March in Indianapolis. AP

This promises to be a busy and important spring and summer for Donte Jackson.

The Panthers’ second-round pick and former LSU cornerback arrived in Charlotte on Thursday and will begin his NFL career in earnest this weekend during the team’s rookie minicamp.

Another big milestone in Jackson’s life comes in June with the expected arrival of his daughter. Jackson and his girlfriend already have a name picked out (Demi Dalia) as well as a nickname (Baby Action Jackson).

Demi will have dad to thank for her nickname – and likely her speed.

“I feel like I could’ve been a little more creative,” Jackson said of his daughter’s nickname. “But we’ll go with that for now.”

Jackson’s girlfriend is due June 22, a little more than a month before the start of training camp. By then the former high school and LSU sprinter will have three opportunities (rookie camp, OTAs, minicamp) to show off his speed, which has been wowing his peers since his elementary school days in New Orleans.

“You know field day and stuff like that? Any time we had to do any type of sprints, I was always the one in first place,” Jackson said last month the day after the Panthers took him with the 55th overall pick.

“I was always used to just winning when I run,” he added. “I’ve just been fast ever since and I’ve always been competitive.”

Jackson’s speed helped him overcome pre-draft concerns about his size (5-11, 178) and coverage skills. He tied for the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.32 seconds) among all 330-plus players at the scouting combine – a development that did not surprise his LSU position coach in the least.

“He can track balls in the air,” Tigers defensive backs coach Corey Raymond said. “He has that speed and that stop-and-go that you just don’t see (often).”

Brett Bonnaffons saw it during Jackson’s final two seasons at Riverdale High, the New Orleans-area school where Jackson was a two-time, state-champion sprinter in track and a playmaker on both sides of the football.

Raymond remembers scouting one of Jackson’s high school games and it was the Donte Show wherever he lined up.

“We watched one of his games where he was playing safety, playing running back. He was doing it all,” Raymond said. “Every time he touched the ball he was going to score.”

Jackson accounted for 1,637 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior, while coming up with 59 tackles on defense.

But his speed set him apart, boosting him to a No. 5 national ranking among all cornerbacks by Scout.com.

But Bonnaffons says Jackson is more than just a pure burner.

“The negative about a lot of track guys in the NFL is, ‘Oh, he’s just straight-line speed. He has no wiggle. He’s not going to be able to translate,’” Bonnaffons said. “Well, Donte has a tremendous amount of body control and a tremendous ability to stop on a dime and cut.”

Bonnaffons says LSU coaches made a “huge mistake” by not using Jackson as a returner, something the Panthers plan to try with their second-round pick.

With his smallish frame, Jackson would seem to fit best at nickel in the NFL. But Panthers coaches plan to give him a shot at outside corner, too.

“He does have a confidence about him that you like to see in corners,” Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. “He’s sudden. He’s fast.”

Jackson comes from an athletic family. His older brother, Kievon, was a running back at Langston, an NAIA school in Oklahoma; his younger sister, Aarieon, runs track at Southeastern Louisiana.

The four children – they have another brother Coy – were raised by their mother, Yashica, who worked several jobs to provide for them, according to Bonnaffons. Jackson said his father has been in prison for most of his life.

“He just got caught up in the wrong things early on. That’s about as much as I can say,” Jackson said. “But I still have a great relationship with my father. We talk every other day. He’s still supporting me from where he is at right now. He is still supporting me to this day.”

Like his speed, Jackson has had a swagger from a young age.

Asked where that confidence was most evident, Raymond, the LSU assistant, said: “It was every day.”

Jackson vows to bring that same swag to Charlotte, regardless of where he starts on the field or the depth chart.

“Whether it’s nickel, corner, safety, special teams, anything -- I’m going to come in ready to compete. They are going to get a lot of fight out of me early on,” he said.

“If I come in here and start right away, if I’m with the 3s and the 4s right away, they know they are going to get a competitor who is going to come into practice and come to work every day to work.”

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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