As the 2006 NFL draft was winding down, Toledo safety Keon Jackson waited for a call that never came. The 5-11, 206 pound big-play defensive back sat through seven rounds of the draft without being selected. While he was disappointed, Jackson didn't have a lot of time to think about not being selected because shortly after the draft ended, his phone started ringing. On the other end of one of those calls was a representative from the Patriots.
"A couple of teams showed interest in me but I'm glad I ended up where I did," Jackson said. "This is the best fit for me and I'm proud to be a Patriot."
Jackson, a four-year starter at strong safety at Toledo, was named first-team All-MAC as a senior and second-team All-MAC as a junior. He had 283 career tackles and 10 interceptions. Jackson returned four of his 10 career interceptions for touchdowns, setting a school record and tying the conference record.
"I've always expected a lot out of myself," Jackson said. "In college, I was one of the leaders of our defense but now I'm just trying to come in here and fit in. Whether it's special teams or safety, I want to get on the field and prove I belong."
Jackson showed he is also effective defending the run at Toledo. As a junior, he led the Rockets with 10.5 tackles for loss to go along with all his big interception returns.
"I always seemed to come up with a big play when we needed it," he said. "My goal is to always be around the football and make a play. I feel I was able to do that most of the time in college and now I need to prove that I can do it at this level too."
After a strong senior season that saw him record 75 tackles and four interceptions, Jackson thought he had done enough over his college career to get drafted but it wasn't to be. He's not sure why his name wasn't called on draft day but Jackson is glad the Patriots were willing to give him an opportunity to show what he can do on the field.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to be a Patriot," Jackson said. "I'm glad someone took a chance on me. I can't wait to get out there and prove what I can do."
Being an undrafted free agent, Jackson has an uphill battle to make the team but he's an intriguing prospect. The Patriots need depth at the safety position and Jackson showed in college that he has a knack for making big plays.
"I'm going to work as hard as I can," he said. "Just going to training camp doesn't mean I made the team, so I'm going to continue to work hard to improve my game."
Right now Jackson has to compete with eight other safeties for a roster spot but if he can impress the coaching staff during training camp and preseason, he has a chance to land on the practice squad at the very least. As Patriots fans know all too well, the team can never have enough quality defensive backs stashed away just in case they're needed. Jackson is hoping to be one of those guys.
"I have always felt in my heart that I can play at this level," he said. "Now I have the opportunity to prove it, so I just have to go out every day and show that I belong."