The Tennessee Titans drafted former Tennessee Volunteers defensive back Theo Jackson with the No. 204 overall selection in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Jackson is a versatile back-end defender that played multiple roles for the Volunteers’ secondary. After previously struggling to carve out an every-down role for himself, Jackson exploded in 2021 by recording 78 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, and 12 pass breakups. Titans General Manager Jon Robinson has done an impressive job drafting productive defensive backs on Day Three throughout his tenure as Tennessee’s chief decision-maker, and Jackson is capable of adding to that reputation. Jackson was consistently around the ball during this past weekend’s rookie mini-camp.
Jackson recently spoke exclusively with Broadway Sports regarding how he formed a relationship with the Titans throughout the pre-draft process, what it meant to get drafted by his hometown team, which position he expects to play going forward, and so much more.
JM: You entered the 2021 campaign with modest production to your name. That changed in a major way. You earned a starring role and ended up recording 78 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, and 12 pass breakups. Besides more opportunity and snaps, what would you say changed for you in 2021?
TJ: Besides having more opportunities at my disposal, I would probably credit my study habits and the overall changes our defensive scheme went through. When the new staff came in at Tennessee, they changed our scheme completely. They made it significantly simpler for us to the point where once we got on the field, we could play without having to think as much. We had very few checks. That allowed us to focus on what the offense was doing. That helped us think ahead and prepare for what was yet to come.
My study habits made a huge difference as well. I started watching film for like three-to-four hours a day (laughs).
JM: Wow. Your hard work paid off. What was draft weekend like for you?
TS: That was a whirlwind, man (laughs). I was nervous on that first day because it meant it was finally here. The show is starting now and my life can change within the next few days. I was watching the guys get drafted and I sent a few congratulatory text messages. Day Two arrived and a couple of my teammates got drafted. I was so excited for them. Day Three came and that was a very stressful day for me. I was thinking too much and all that. I had to be calmed down a little bit by my parents. Once I got that call, my emotions just started pouring out of me. It just all came out. This is something I’ve worked so hard for.
JM: I bet it did. You were born and raised in Nashville. You played college football at Tennessee. What does it feel like to keep the journey going as you become a member of the Titans?
TJ: It really feels like a giant blessing. It’s one thing to stay-in state and go to college, but to get to wrap up your collegiate career and then get drafted by the Titans? That’s just crazy, man. My last game at Tennessee was in the Music City Bowl at Nissan Stadium. I really finished my college career in the same stadium I’m about to start my pro career in. That’s just super special.
JM: I love asking rookies this question after the draft. Did you feel like the Titans were interested in you throughout the process? What sort of contact did you have with them throughout the pre-draft process?
TJ: They were definitely on the list of teams that I thought might draft me. They kept in constant contact with me throughout the process. They took a liking to me at Pro Day. After that, I came up here for their local day. They showed me around the facility. I spoke with General Manager Jon Robinson. I’ve spoken with the entire staff. They were all over me throughout the process (laughs).
I had a couple of calls with Patrick Woo from their scouting department. Mike Vrabel called me as well. Jon Robinson called me. He called me to check in on how I was doing and how the process was treating me. It was the simple things as they tried to get to know me better.
JM: Not every prospect hears from both the coach and General Manager. It’s obvious they had a lot of interest in you. You played that star/nickel position for Tennessee in 2021. What did you enjoy about playing that position? What do you see as your main position going forward?
TJ: I really enjoyed being close to the ball on what felt like a snap-by-snap basis. I loved that. That allowed me to make so many tackles, and so many plays on the ball, too. I spent a lot of time covering opposing slot receivers. I typically lined up against one of the best receivers from the opposition. It was always a challenge and I love rising to the occasion. I embrace competition. I loved it.
In regards to the next level, I expect to start at safety. I’m going to learn my role as a safety going forward. I’m going to dive into the playbook and maybe somewhere down the line, I can maybe move into the nickel and play a more versatile role. I’m not really sure what the long-term plan is. Right now, I’m just focused on being a safety.
JM: I actually want to revisit your first answer about playing faster in 2021. I spoke with your teammate Alontae Taylor and he basically told me the exact same thing about Tennessee’s defense becoming easier to play in under the new staff.
TJ: Before the new staff came in, we’d get a defensive call that had six or seven different checks within it. For example, under the new staff, every 3×1 formation has one check. Every 2×2 formation has one check. That simplifies everything. We just have to make the one check and now we can focus on splits, backfield formations, and things of that nature. What do they like to do in this formation? What type of motion can we get? It just allowed us to think on our feet. It really allowed us to be a student of the game. You don’t have to think so much about what you have to do. That allows you to focus on other areas of the game.
JM: That makes perfect sense. Is there one Titans teammate you’re excited to meet in person and learn from?
TJ: Definitely Kevin Byard. He came from Middle Tennessee State, man. He’s another local guy. I’m excited to pick his brain about the small things. I know the knowledge he can share with me will help me out down the line. I want to understand how he sees things differently from how I see them. I’m definitely going to pick his brain a little bit.
JM: That’s a terrific choice. I’ve really appreciated your time. In closing, what are your goals for rookie minicamp and training camp?
TJ: I’m hoping to prove that I can be a valuable asset for the team, whether that’s on defense or special teams. I’m an experienced special teams player as well. I played a bunch of special teams throughout my four years at Tennessee. I started as the punt returner this past season, but I eventually got pulled because our offense went fast. We were on the field a lot due to our tempo. They pulled me as the punt returner because I started playing 100 snaps a game (laughs). They decided to keep my legs a little fresher for the defense. I’m really just trying to contribute in any way that I can.
Editor’s note: Interview was conducted in early May.