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From Deli Employee of Month to Draft Pick: CB Khyree Jackson Took Unique Path to Vikings

2024 Draft Selection 2560x1440_KhyreeJackson

EAGAN, Minn. — Any way you slice it, Khyree Jackson's path to the NFL is one worth telling.

In 2018, Jackson was two seasons removed from last playing football and had just earned Employee of the Month honors from his local Harris Teeter grocery store.

"I was working in the deli," Jackson told Twin Cities media members via videoconference Saturday. "So I was cutting ham and stuff."

Six years later, Jackson is celebrating being drafted 108th overall by the Minnesota Vikings.

"I'm just super grateful," he said. "I can't really put into too many words how this process has been – truthfully, it's been a whirlwind."

Jackson acknowledged there was a time he didn't know if he'd play football again.

He explained that in 2018 he stepped away from Arizona Western College and moved back home to Upper Marlboro, Maryland, without telling his friends he'd dropped out.

"I told them I was still in school," he said. "I stayed in my house for six straight months, and nobody knew. And it was kind of eating away at me.

"I finally told my friends, and that moment really told me, 'Man, if I was embarrassed to even tell them, like, I might want to get up and try to do it again instead of just sitting here and sulking.' "

After mentally letting go of football, focusing on his grocery store job and pursuing the NBA 2K League (he made it to the top 250 and was preparing for a draft in New York), Jackson found himself with a second opportunity to play at Fort Scott Community College in 2019.

And just like that, he was back on the field – but as a receiver.

"I went back and first played receiver. I felt like I had kind of earned my coach's trust, and then I went to his office and told him, 'You know, I wanted to play corner,' " Jackson said. "I let him know, 'You know, I'm in junior college, I got to produce to kind of get out of here. … At least I can kind of control my own destiny."

At 6-foot-3-and-3/4-inches and 194 pounds, Jackson isn't a typical-sized cornerback.

He's used his length (and 78-inch wingspan) to his advantage, though, and managed his size effectively, helping him go from JUCO ball, then to Alabama as a backup under Nick Saban and then to Oregon last season as a full-time starter.

Vikings Senior Vice President of Player Personnel Ryan Grigson spoke to media members via videoconference following Minnesota's selection of Jackson.

"He really kind of put it all together [last season] in a really premier conference (Pac-12) with a lot of talent that he had to match against," Grigson said. "Really happy with the value here and what he brings to the table. Because at the end of the day, you have a guy that can move, that has instincts, that's [6-3 with] 33-inch arms to match up in our league where there's so many big receivers."

Jackson made a tremendous impact during his single season for Oregon, starting all 12 games and leading the Ducks with three interceptions. He also recorded 34 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 5.0 tackles for loss and seven pass breakups.

"He's got loose hips for a big guy, and he can really gain ground and cover," NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah said on the NFL Network broadcast following the selection.

Grigson also noted the way Jackson can move as an atypical-sized cornerback.

"The way he drops his weight and his hips and just his footwork, it's just not ordinary, and that's why I love this pick," Grigson said. "I think all the coaches, everyone sees the talent and sees some of the rare things that are hard to get in this round."

Jim Nagy, Executive Director of the Reese's Senior Bowl, took to X to reference scouting notes from 2022 during Jackson's time at Alabama:

"Trusted source on coaching staff told me, "𝙆𝙝𝙮𝙧𝙚𝙚'𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙢𝙤𝙨𝙩 𝙩𝙖𝙡𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙙 𝙜𝙪𝙮 𝙞𝙣 𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝘿𝘽 𝙧𝙤𝙤𝙢."

Jackson participated in the 2024 Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Alabama, and was able to work with Vikings Passing Game Coordinator/Defensive Backs Coach Daronte Jones, who shares a hometown with Jackson, as well as Vikings safeties coach Michael Hutchings and defensive assistant Imarjaye Albury.

"I was with Coach [Nick] Saban for a while and then also [Oregon Head Coach Dan] Lanning – I was with some very elite coaches – and I thought I kind of knew a lot about the cornerback position," Jackson said. "And then being with Coach Jones, he was able to still give me other tips and tricks to look at.

"It was honestly kind of mind-blowing to know there's still so much more to learn about the game even though I've been with some of the greats before," he added.

Jackson additionally is excited to work with Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores, whom he's been watching closely since Flores' time as the Dolphins head coach.

View photos of Oregon cornerback Khyree Jackson who was selected No. 108 overall in the fourth round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

Safe to say the feeling is mutual.

"We think he can be a hell of an outside corner. But with some of the creativity that 'Flo' has demonstrated, I think there's some things you can do with him that that can move the needle as well because of the length, the burst and the football instincts," Grigson explained. "He's blocked field goals, he's been able to affect the quarterback coming off the edge.

"He's just so intriguing because of the playmaking ability, the instincts, and then just again, he's gonna always be a really big corner, one of the biggest in the league right now," Grigson continued. "It's gonna be fun to see him get with our staff, start getting reps and watching him mature and grow as a player. I'm excited about it."

Grigson noted that Jackson drew the Vikings attention during a meeting at the Senior Bowl, and he later participated in a Top 30 visit to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.

"I told them I was the best corner in the draft. And I told them they were probably gonna be gettin' me for cheaper," Jackson quipped of being a Day 3 selection. "I was just being honest. I felt confident in my ability. … I was in a very pass-heavy conference this year, and I think I showed versus a lot of top-tier receivers and quarterbacks what I could do. That's really all I said.

He then added with a smile, "But to get me for cheaper was just icing on the cake – because if you can save some money, why not?"