I was not expecting that Bills-Jets game. If you had told me last Saturday that Tyler Bass would kick eight field goals, Josh Allen would have no touchdowns, Jerry Hughes would have an interception, and the Bills would not have a single punt, I would’ve called you nuts. That being said, it happened, and the Bills were victorious. For all of you Bills Mafia members that say they didn’t score enough points in the win, let me remind you that, contrary to popular belief, the Jets are in fact a professional football team and are liable to put up a fight once in a (Labatt’s) blue moon. A win is a win, regardless of the score or how many heart attacks it induces.
With that mini-rant out of the way, let’s get down to business. There is a player that I didn’t already mention who made a key contribution on defense. Dane Jackson had three total tackles, two pass breakups, and a crucial interception before halftime against the Jets last Sunday. He exemplified the “next man up” mentality in relief of Josh Norman and (by extension) Levi Wallace, showing excellent awareness in coverage and always finding ways to get to the ball.
What’s interesting about Jackson’s debut is the fact that it came almost two years to the day that Levi Wallace made his Bills debut (also against the Jets). This got me thinking: How similar are these guys? Will Dane Jackson follow Wallace’s path to a starting job? That is what we will be looking at in this week’s installment of “2020 Vision”.
How They Got Here
Levi Wallace: From Walk-On to Starter
Levi Wallace spent his first two collegiate seasons on Alabama’s scout team before earning a walk-on scholarship in 2016, his junior year. In 2017, Wallace would start all 14 games for the Crimson Tide, including the national championship. He had the most pass breakups (15) and second-most interceptions (3) on the team that year, earning second team All-SEC honors. Wallace would graduate following the end of the 2017 season and pursue a career in the NFL.
Wallace signed with Buffalo as an undrafted rookie free agent in May 2018. He would be cut in September and end up on their practice squad (scout team) just like at Alabama. However, unlike his college days, he would only have to wait two months for his opportunity. Wallace would start the next 27 games for the Bills from November 2018 through October 2020. Unfortunately, he would land on injured reserve after suffering an ankle injury during Buffalo’s week four victory over the Las Vegas Raiders. This would (inadvertently) pave the way for another practice squad cornerback to make his debut.
Dane Jackson: 3-Star Recruit, 5-Star Production
Unlike Wallace, Dane Jackson committed to the University of Pittsburgh in 2015 as a three-star recruit. In 2016, the redshirt freshman played in 12 games for Pitt, including three starts, recording 18 total tackles, one interception (returned for a touchdown), and four pass break ups. He followed that up by starting all 38 games for Pitt from 2017-19, becoming a team captain and earning second team All-ACC honors his senior year. In those three seasons, he recorded 131 total tackles (nine for loss), three interceptions, 35 pass breakups, four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown). His prolific play earned him a Senior Bowl invite en route to the draft.
Jackson was drafted by Buffalo in the seventh round (239th overall) of the 2020 NFL Draft. Like Wallace, he too would be cut at the end of the preseason and sign with the Bills practice squad. He would also get an opportunity to start as a result of injuries. We all know what happened next.
Looking into the Crystal Ball
History always seems to repeat itself. Wallace and Jackson were standout cornerbacks at division one colleges who ended up on Buffalo’s practice squad before making their debuts mid-season as a result of injuries. Additionally, both corners have similar builds (Wallace: 6’0”, 179 lbs.; Jackson: 6’0”, 187 lbs.) and play with starting-caliber instincts and character.
When I wrote my initial roster projection way back in August, I didn’t know much about Dane Jackson except for what I saw in the scrolls (stats) and magic mirror (highlights). I said that he should make the roster as a special teamer/developmental nickel corner. After seeing him in action and reading the Cover 1 article, I can see that I grossly underestimated his abilities. Levi Wallace turned his call up into a starting job back in 2018, so there is no reason that Dane Jackson cannot do the same now.
What do you think? Is Dane Jackson the next Levi Wallace? Will he ever become a starter? Let me know on Twitter (@zvaughn2712).
I would also like to thank all of you who participated in the Twitter poll to decide the subject for this week’s 2020 Vision Profile. I genuinely enjoy writing these articles and I hope that you continue to support them with your views, likes, and comments!