IOWA CITY — It’s all about the timing.
After putting together one of the best seasons an Iowa cornerback has ever had, Josh Jackson believes the time is right to take his game to the next level.
The Hawkeyes’ record-setting consensus all-American announced Wednesday that he will forego his final year of eligibility at Iowa and declare for the 2018 NFL draft.
“Growing up, it has always been my dream to play in the National Football League. I am excited for the next step and humbled by this great opportunity,’’ Jackson wrote in announcing his decision in the form of a letter to “Hawkeye Nation’’ he posted on his Instagram account.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound native of Corinth, Texas, reached his decision to become the eighth player in Kirk Ferentz’s 19 seasons to leave early for the NFL after putting together a breakthrough season in his only year as a line-up regular for the Hawkeyes.
Seeing action primarily as part of Iowa’s nickel package as a redshirt freshman in 2015 and during a sophomore season that ended with his first career start in the Outback Bowl, Jackson thrived as a junior at the left cornerback position Desmond King had filled for the past four seasons.
He led all defenders in the Football Bowl Subdivision with eight interceptions and 26 passes defended, collecting 48 tackles and 18 pass break ups along the way to becoming the Big Ten’s defensive back of the year and one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award presented to college football’s top defensive back.
Prior to last week’s Pinstripe Bowl, Jackson said he felt a responsibility to make the right decision for himself.
“At the end of the day, I have to weigh it all and figure out what is best for me at this point in time,’’ Jackson said. “It’s about doing the right thing in the moment, understanding that I may never be in this position again.’’
Jackson provided a hint of things to come this season when he intercepted Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen in the Hawkeyes’ opening game of the season, returning the first pick of his career 41 yards.
He had another interception in Iowa’s win over North Texas but didn’t truly emerge as one of the nation’s elite defenders until the ninth and 10th weeks of the season.
Jackson intercepted Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett three times in the Hawkeyes’ 55-24 win over the third-rated Buckeyes.
The following week, he became the first player in Big Ten history to return two picks for touchdowns in a conference game when he returned interceptions 43 and 52 yards for Iowa’s only scores in a 38-14 loss at sixth-ranked Wisconsin.
Jackson’s last interception came with 1 minute, 18 seconds remaining in the Hawkeyes’ Pinstripe Bowl victory, allowing him to tie an Iowa single-season record of eight established by Nile Kinnick in 1939 and equaled by Lou King in 1981 and Desmond King in 2015.
His body of work has led Jackson to be rated by multiple NFL draft experts as the top cornerback in this year’s draft class and a likely top-25 selection overall.
Four cornerbacks were selected in the opening round of the 2017 draft and those chosen in the same neighborhood where current projections list Jackson signed deals ranging between $9-11 million.
Defensive coordinator Phil Parker sees differences between Jackson and Desmond King, who opted to return for his senior season at Iowa after winning the Jim Thorpe Award in 2015 and ultimately ended up as a fifth-round pick of the Chargers in last year’s draft.
“Desmond was a different story,’’ Parker said. “He doesn’t have the same dimensions and skill set that maybe Josh has, but Desmond has more of the football instincts than maybe Josh does.’’
In his Instagram letter announcing his decision, Jackson expressed gratitude to Iowa’s academic, training, strength and coaching staffs for their help over the years, calling his initial decision to sign with Iowa “the best decision of my life.’’
He singled out Parker, his position coach, Ferentz and strength and conditioning coordinator Chris Doyle for their help in his development.
Jackson went on to thank fans for their “unwavering support’’ and his teammates, writing, “the memories we’ve made on and off the field will last forever. We will always be brothers.’’
Jackson is on track to earn his undergraduate degree from Iowa in May, needing nine credits to earn a bachelor’s degree in sports management.
The decision made by Jackson does remove one experienced cornerback from the Hawkeye roster, but when Iowa begins working toward the 2018 season it does return three players with starting experience at the two cornerback positions.
Manny Rugamba has started 11 games for the Hawkeyes at cornerback over the past two seasons, Michael Ojemudia was a three-game starter this season and freshman Matt Hankins started the final two games of the season at right cornerback.
Iowa also redshirted freshman Josh Turner this past season and is expected to add newcomers Terry Roberts, D.J. Johnson and Julius Brents to the roster as freshmen next season.