The 2020 season is a bit of a make-or-break season for Carolina Panthers third-year cornerback Donte Jackson.
In his first two years in Carolina, Jackson has shown flashes of being a top cornerback thanks to his athleticism and speed that got him drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, but he has also made a handful of mental mistakes on the field and shown some immaturity off the field by calling out coaches and plays.
One thing Jackson hasn't struggled with is his confidence.
"I know it's a big year for me and I'm expecting a big year from me," Jackson said. "I'm just staying ready to go. I've been staying at it. Staying in the film room, staying in the treatment room and just being that leader on-and-off the field."
After missing three games to injury last year and even getting benched at one point late in the year, Jackson made sure to improve his body, even more, this offseason.
"This offseason I just really invested my time and my money into improving my body so I won't have to worry about getting out there not 100 percent," Jackson said. "Health is a big thing for me. I've been staying on my groin, my hammies and my hip flexors. Those were the three problems of concern last year."
If Jackson does that, he's confident he can be one of the best.
"I know when I'm 100 percent I can one of the best corners in this league, and just giving my team a chance to win," Jackson added.
A fresh start with new head coach Matt Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow will certainly help his cause after disagreements with former DB and interim head coach Perry Fewell last year.
Rhule sees the potential Jackson has.
"I didn't know him before so I can't talk about anything before but I can talk about what I see right now. I see a competitive, tough, grown man that's really ready to be a play-in, play-out and day-in, day-out corner," Rhule said. "He's been one of the real bright spots for me. I think his best football is about to be played."
In a secondary that lost cornerback James Bradberry this offseason and has a handful of new faces, Jackson's improvement and leadership will be needed.
"It's just growing as a player. Experience matters," Jackson said. "Trying to not really talk about being a leader but actually going out there and put in the work to be a letter. I'm just trying to come in and be a positive spot on the defense for the team. Like I said, when I'm out there and positive and focused, I know what I can do."
According to Pro Football Reference, Jackson's opponents averaged 17.0 yards per completion when defended by him last season, ranking as the 14th worst in 2019.
In June, Snow told reporters the biggest thing that Jackson can do to improve his play is paying more attention to the detail.
“The problem is, is he needs to get a little bit more detailed,” Snow said. “We’ve talked to him about that, and I think with our DB coaches, they’re working well with him and I think he’s got some talent to him.”
Unlike last year when Jackson called out Fewell following a game saying there were "horrible" play calls, Jackson trusts his new coaches.
"Me and coach Snow talked a lot this offseason. Me and coach Rhule talk a lot throughout the offseason. And we have that same thing that we talk about," Jackson said. "I know what I can do, they know what I can do. That’s why they trusted me. They trusted me to lead the cornerback room and be one of the best in the league.”
Jackson is also prepared to deal with the struggles better that set him back in 2019.
“Not being 100% and not being able to run with guys I know I can run with, I let that break my confidence and take me out of it," Jackson said. "So that’s one thing I’ve been wanting to key in on and being able to cope with anything that happens and fight through adversity, and I don’t think I was able to do that last year.”