Not every football player finds their way to the NFL the same way, and that’s certainly true for Jerry Jacobs as he enters his third year with the Detroit Lions.
From Hutchinson Community College in Kansas to Arkansas St. to a brief stint with the Arkansas Razorbacks in 2020 and playing on college football’s biggest stage in the SEC, Jacobs collegiate journey didn’t culminate with him hearing his name called during the 2021 NFL Draft.
“Man, that was one goal of mine, to get my name called [in the draft],” Jacobs said in an interview with Pride of Detroit. “When I didn’t get my name called, you know, it was a sad moment at the time, but I knew I was going to get an opportunity to compete with the best and get a shot at the league.”
Not too long after the dust had settled on the draft, opportunity came his way when the Lions, a team with a new regime at the helm led by head coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes, signed Jacobs as an undrafted free agent. And even though a couple of other teams showed interest in signing him, his decision to play in Detroit was a chance to make a name for himself alongside others who were set on proving themselves as well.
“They got a new coaching staff coming in when I was coming in,” Jacobs remembered. “So everyone was going to have to prove themselves all over again with this organization, so that was another reason why I chose to come here. I can come up there and help out and be a big piece of something like that. I can really make my name in the league from [an opportunity with] the Detroit Lions.”
Jacobs would make the 53-man roster and get his first career start in Week 5 after the Lions dealt with injuries at the cornerback position, including losing Jeff Okudah for the season with a torn Achilles—someone Jacobs had developed a close relationship with during training camp earlier that year. His stellar play earned him the starting job on the wide side opposite of Amani Oruwariye for the next nine games before Jacobs tore the ACL in his left knee, an injury that happened to his right knee when he was at Arkansas St.
Heading into this season after an offseason of training instead of rehab, Jacobs feels ahead of schedule and ready for the 2023 season.
“Oh yeah, it’s a totally different ball game from when you’re injured and when you’re not,” Jacobs said about the differences between rehabbing and training. “When I was injured, I was up here 24-7, all day long just working, but when I wasn’t, I was just training and making sure I’m ready for the season. I’m on top of my game.”
It’s well-documented at this point how the Lions have filled out their coaching staff with former NFL players, but part of Jacobs staying at the top of his game is the relationship he’s developed with Aaron Glenn, the former Pro Bowl cornerback and the Lions defensive coordinator.
“I’ve been with AG [Aaron Glenn] for two years now, man, so that’s one of my guys. He never sugar coats nothing, always keeps it real since I got to start,” Jacobs said. “Just amazing, man, to have those coaches in your ear, teaching you some great things to be great in this league.”
Detroit’s secondary finished 23rd in pass DVOA and allowed the second-most net yards-per-pass attempt (7.0) in 2022, but after an offseason where the Lions signed veterans Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley, the team hopes an infusion of outside talent will lead to improvements. It’s easier said than done, of course, and different doesn’t always equate to better, but Jacobs thinks the secondary, including the new faces, all share something in common.
“Everybody’s hungry,” Jacobs said. “Everybody wants to change this organization around, everybody wants to win. Guys coming in like that, they’re just going to make the secondary better.”
For Jacobs, though, the player who worked his way from junior college all the way to the NFL, it all comes back to seizing the opportunity when it presents itself, and working hard to make the most out of it.
“I just want to show the world ... that it’s an opportunity [like playing in the NFL] and when you do get that opportunity, you gotta take advantage of it,” Jacobs said. ‘I just try and stay level-headed and make sure that I’m always on the right path to be successful in this league. Every day I come in and I just give it my all and just work hard.”