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Stolen from Steelers? Even William Jackson III surprised by Bengals' call

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Bengals expecting big things from Jackson (0:48)

Field Yates breaks down the Bengals' first-round draft pick, former Houston CB William Jackson III. (0:48)

CINCINNATI -- Was it payback? Poetic justice? Or simply drafting a player at a position of need?

Whatever the Cincinnati Bengals consider their selection of cornerback William Jackson III at No. 24 overall Thursday night, the pick has clearly sent reverberations throughout the always contentious AFC North.

For virtually the entire pre-draft process, mock drafts had the Pittsburgh Steelers picking a cornerback. And with Ohio State's Eli Apple expected to be off the board when Pittsburgh picked at No. 25 -- one spot after the Bengals had been long anticipated to go with a receiver, mind you -- draft analysts almost unanimously expected Jackson to be right there for the Steelers to take.

Even Jackson had been preparing himself for the inevitability of playing in Pittsburgh.

"[The Bengals] definitely surprised me," Jackson said on a conference call with Bengals media late Thursday.

As he waited on the only phone call that mattered that night, Jackson, who spent the opening round at home with family in Houston, was expecting to see Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's name pop up on his screen. Not Marvin Lewis' name.

"It took me by surprise," Jackson said. "I was not expecting it."

That's because although Jackson spent his share of time with the Bengals, it appeared Pittsburgh was wining and dining him more. When evaluating corners, the Steelers put a great emphasis on how well he defends passes. Jackson's 28 passes defensed in 2015 were the most in the nation. That was reason enough to want him.

"I had dinner with them and we had great chemistry," Jackson said. "We talked about a lot of things, so I thought it was coming. But I'm happy to be a Cincinnati Bengal."

It's worth noting that Jackson also felt a strong connection to Bengals defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle during a visit to Cincinnati.

There's little need for a reminder about how tense things have been between the Bengals and Steelers recently. The teams, fan bases and the cities already didn't like each other. But across the past three seasons, the animosity has risen because of a series of devastating, injury-inducing hits and games that have determined both teams' postseason fates.

In 2013, Terence Garvin's blindside hit on Bengals punter Kevin Huber broke Huber's jaw and ended his season. The next year, then-Bengals safety Reggie Nelson cost Le'Veon Bell a playoff appearance after delivering a hard shot to the running back's knee. Bell also was lost for the last half of the 2015 season after being tackled in Week 8 by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who has drawn the Steelers' ire in all four seasons he's been in the league. It was also Burfict's hit to Antonio Brown's head at the end of January's playoff game that gave Brown a concussion and forced the receiver to miss Pittsburgh's divisional-round meeting with Denver a week later.

Then there were the threatening tweets Burfict got from Steelers players in the middle of last season. Those messages were at the heart of a pregame scuffle before last season's Week 15 meeting. During that game, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was lost for the season when he broke a thumb trying to complete a post-interception tackle.

With all of that as the backdrop to the draft, it's easy to see why fans on both sides think the Bengals' selection of Jackson was partly some payback, a draft-night thievery of a good corner.

Then again, had it not been for Houston, Washington and Minnesota all taking key receivers in the three picks ahead of the Bengals, perhaps Jackson would have fallen to the Steelers, as expected. Who knows?