Irish In The Pros: Bennett Jackson Makes His First 53-Man NFL Roster
Prior to his last game in a Notre Dame uniform, cornerback Bennett Jackson expressed that he and some of his teammates were hoping for a bowl game hosted in a warmer climate than the Pinstripe Bowl in New York at the end of December.
But that’s where the Irish were headed and, ultimately, what mattered the most to Jackson was the opportunity to line up with his teammates and best friends again before he moved onto a career in the NFL.
“We just wanted to go out, have another game and be able to play with each other one more time,” he told reporters before the game.
The Pinstripe Bowl resulted in a 29-16 victory over Rutgers on Dec. 28, 2013. Jackson, who played all season with a torn labrum in his shoulder, had five tackles and one stop for loss.
What Jackson didn’t know at the time is that injuries would continue to plague him for the next several years and prevent him from making an NFL roster for half a decade.
Jackson was taken in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by New York Giants, a team close to his hometown of Hazlet, N.J., and made the practice squad.
He made the move to safety and worked himself to be in a position to start in 2015, only to tear his ACL at the end of the preseason and be placed on injured reserve. The Giants released him in August 2016.
Jackson kept grinding and was picked up by the Ravens in January 2018. Once again, just before the season, he got injured and was released from the team but joined the practice squad that November.
“It’s definitely tough mentally,” Jackson said. “It was a process I had to go through that was stressful and depressing at times, but I had a good support staff.”
During the 2019 preseason, Jackson had another chance to make the Raven’s roster but was waived due to the team’s depth at the safety position. Only this time, he didn’t have to settle for the practice squad.
Instead, Jackson was claimed by the New York Jets and put on their 53-man roster. He now gets a second chance to make his NFL debut less than 45 minutes from where he grew up.
“This is a blessing,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity and something that I’ve been working for. Now I got the opportunity to do it, it’s pretty much what I’ve been working for this whole time. So my plan is to make the most of it.”
In New York, he will also have a chance to rekindle a friendship with former Notre Dame safety Matthias Farley, who also signed with the Jets as a free agent prior to the start of the regular season.
“We were roommates in college,” Farley said of Jackson. “We had a lot of success at Notre Dame together, playing on the same side or opposite of each other in the secondary.
“We’ve kept up with each other over the years and make an effort to be in each other’s lives. It’s kind of like an unforeseen dream come true to be on the team with your best friend.”
While Jackson made the 53-man roster, he does have some work to do. In the Jets’ first game against the Buffalo Bills Sept. 8, he was put on the inactive list.
But this minor set back is unlikely to impact Jackson’s resolve — a trait that Farley says is rarely found to the same degree in the NFL.
“Anytime you're in the league for even just a couple of years, you see guys come and go and some guys will be out of football and kind of lose that edge or lose that mentality,” Farley said. “But [Bennett] has definitely been grinding daily. No one questions his work ethic; no one questions the desire he’s had this whole time.
“So to see him get an opportunity and for me to be able to be a part of it, it’s really something special.”
Notre Dame in the NFL: Week One Highlights
• Miles Boykin (Played for Notre Dame from 2015-18), WR, Baltimore Ravens: Was only targeted once in his NFL debut, but that lone pass resulted in his first career catch and touchdown (five yards) in a 59-10 win over the Miami Dolphins.
• Will Fuller V (2013-15), WR, Houston Texans: Hauled in two receptions for 69 yards in a 30-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints … Made a spectacular grab on a 54-yard bomb from quarterback DeShaun Watson.
• Harrison Smith (2007-11), S, Minnesota Vikings: Tied for the team lead in tackles with nine and broke up two passes in a 28-12 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
• Stephon Tuitt (2011-13), DE, Pittsburgh Steelers: Credited with a team-high two tackles for loss in a 33-3 defeat to the New England Patriots.