USC hasn’t had a pass rusher selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since Leonard Williams in 2015. Could Drake Jackson break that drought in the 2022 NFL Draft and emerge as the player to challenge Kayvon Thibodeaux‘s presumed dominance at the top of the class? We attempt to answer that question with the USC DE-turned-OLB’s scouting report.
Drake Jackson NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Defensive End/3-4 Outside Linebacker
- School: USC
- Current Year: Junior
- Height: 6’4″
- Weight: 255 pounds
Drake Jackson Scouting Report
Two words immediately spring to mind to describe Jackson’s abilities on the football field — athletic and versatile. Let’s start with the latter. During his two-year tenure at USC, he lined up at both DE and OLB. Jackson proved equally adept at playing with his hand in the dirt or standing up. Although he will play OLB again this season, there’s no reason to believe that he couldn’t play either position in the NFL. That versatility is a valuable commodity at the next level, especially as more teams look to disguise their defensive formations.
Next up, athleticism. Jackson moves exceptionally well, with phenomenal change-of-direction ability. His lateral agility is impressive, allowing him to dance around the line of scrimmage. He also owns fantastic play speed. He’s reportedly been timed at 4.5 seconds for the 40-yard dash, which is evident on tape. Jackson can chase down quarterbacks and ball carriers with ease.
His athletic prowess means Jackson is a pass-rush threat both off the edge and on the interior. He possesses a decent arsenal of pass-rush moves, making use of his long arms to control offensive linemen (while also having a killer spin move at his disposal).
Areas for improvement
One of the main areas for improvement for Jackson is with his tackling. There are far too many examples on tape of him whiffing on a tackle. This can be because he fails to wrap up or even miscalculates the tackle altogether. If Jackson is to become completely dominant, this is the area where he needs to improve the most.
Jackson is blessed with incredible athleticism and he needs to learn to use this to his advantage more consistently. He can win with his agility but often relies on overpowering his man, which isn’t always successful given his lighter frame.
Drake Jackson’s Player Profile
Born and raised in Corona, California, Jackson’s journey to the 2022 NFL Draft began at Centennial High School. He quickly established himself as a standout athlete. Possessing exceptional size and length even at a young age, Jackson tallied 29 tackles and 2 pass deflections in his sophomore season. Although not particularly flashy statistics for a pass rusher, it was just a precursor for more extraordinary things to come.
Jackson saw a considerable uptick in production as a junior. During his 2017 campaign, he amassed 28 tackles, 6 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. Meanwhile, he found additional ways to be disruptive with 3 pass deflections and a first career interception. Drawing attention with his athleticism and pass-rush production, Jackson was named the All-Big VIII League Defensive Lineman of the Year amongst multiple honors.
A four-star high school prospect, Jackson ranked as the 10th-best player in California. As a result, his 12 offers had a heavy Pac-12 contingency. During a senior year where he was named All-Big VIII League Co-MVP after racking up another 27 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, and 6 pass deflections, Jackson visited USC, Arizona State, Oregon, Washington, and Illinois.
Before National Signing Day, Jackson narrowed down his options to USC and Arizona State. Tormented by the decision, he recorded two versions of his commitment video. Even on the morning of the announcement, he still hadn’t made up his mind. Finally, after delaying the announcement, he committed to USC, stating, “I know I’m going to be treated good there and know they’re going to make me the right man.”
Jackson’s career at USC
Another documented factor in Jackson choosing USC over ASU was the opportunity to contribute immediately. Whereas this fails to materialize for some recruits, he became the first true freshman to start a season opener for the Trojans since 2007. In his debut against Fresno State, the new USC DE impressed with 1.5 tackles for loss and 2 pass deflections.
Two games later, against BYU, Jackson tallied his first full sack as a Trojan. He also registered the first (and currently only) forced fumble of his career. Proving to be defensively dominant, Jackson followed that performance with a career-high 8 tackles against Utah, where he also forced a safety.
During his 11 games as a starter in 2019, Jackson led the team in tackles for loss (11.5) and sacks (5.5). Those are already impressive numbers, let alone for a true freshman. His performances earned him an honorable mention for the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Furthermore, Jackson garnered second-team All-Pac-12 honors.
Jackson adapts to changes, remains dominant in 2020
Jackson played at 275 pounds as a true DE for USC in 2019. Ahead of his sophomore campaign, he lost 20 pounds due to illness. Although it is less than ideal to lose weight so rapidly, the lighter frame suited the transition to outside linebacker under a new defensive coordinator.
Despite the challenges presented by the 2020 college football season, Jackson was still one of the premier pass rushers in the sport. In six starts as a sophomore, he tallied 20 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 1 interception. In the regular-season finale against UCLA, Jackson received Pac-12 Defensive Lineman of the Week merits after generating 5 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss.
Jackson ended his sophomore year with second-team All-Pac-12 recognition for the second consecutive season. After adjusting to the outside linebacker position, the expectation is that Jackson will further improve with an entire offseason of preparation. Jackson can follow in former USC DE Williams’ shoes as a first-round selection in the NFL Draft if he does.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is a staff writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.