Once considered a contender to be the first pass rusher off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft, USC’s Drake Jackson has seen a slight downturn in his stock during the last year. However, as Jackson’s scouting report indicates, the former DE-turned-OLB has the athletic upside and pass-rush weapons to be an impactful player in the NFL. The question is, can he realize that potential?
Drake Jackson NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Outside Linebacker
- School: USC
- Current Year: Junior
- Height: 6’2 5/8″
- Weight: 254 pounds
- Wingspan: 82 5/8″
- Arm: 34″
- Hand: 10 1/8″
Drake Jackson Scouting Report
Having entered the season with a high level of expectation, Jackson has gotten lost in a deeply talented EDGE class. While others have ascended, the USC OLB has fallen down the pecking order. Currently, he sits as the 61st overall player on the Pro Football Network Top 300 Big Board. Furthermore, he’s the 10th-ranked EDGE player on our board.
Despite the slide down the class, Jackson still possesses an NFL Draft scouting report that offers many alluring attributes. In some respects, several of those elements that made him such a highly valued prospect back in the summer still hold firm. Let’s dive into those before looking at the areas for improvement on his report.
Jackson is an impressive athlete. At a time when NFL teams will bank on athletic upside and the ability to coach up the rest, the USC OLB has an excellent base to work with. While he didn’t run a 40-yard dash time at either the NFL Combine or USC Pro Day, Jackson reportedly was timed at 4.5 seconds during his Trojans career, which is decent for his size.
While straight-line speed doesn’t always translate to play speed, Jackson has showcased excellent play speed throughout his USC career. His speed to get into the backfield and chase down the opposing quarterback is one of the best elements of his game. As a run defender, the USC OLB repeatedly demonstrates impressive pursuit speed, whether close to the line of scrimmage or in space.
Athletic, versatile, with some impressive pass-rush moves
Speed is only one component of athleticism. Jackson is also an impressive lateral athlete. He is adept at scraping laterally across the line of scrimmage to locate the ball carrier in the run game. Furthermore, he’s shown he can win as a pass rusher by shifting his pass-rush attack from the outside track to the interior in the blink of an eye. With excellent change-of-direction ability, he dances around the line of scrimmage and drops back into coverage fluidly when tasked with doing so.
To finish off the athletic upside element of his scouting report, Jackson displays explosiveness in his first step. With this combination of explosiveness, speed, and lateral agility, the USC OLB can pose a dangerous pass-rush threat. His length makes him disruptive, and he’s demonstrated the ability to bend around the corner. He owns several pass-rush moves, including a killer spin move and an awe-inspiring ghost move.
Although he projects as a true 3-4 OLB at the NFL level, Jackson has some versatility to his scouting report. He’s played out of multiple stances from multiple alignments during his USC career. He’s also been impactful in all three phases of defense — pass rush, run, and coverage. His long arms allow him to clog passing lanes when tasked with coverage responsibilities.
Jackson also demonstrates impressive football intelligence. He’s adept at understanding both man and zone coverage — he ensures his positioning is correct when tasked with dropping back into coverage. Furthermore, while he needs to develop a pass-rush plan to be successful at the next level, he’s shown the ability to vary his rush dependent on what the offensive tackle presents to him.
Areas for improvement
While there is plenty of athletic upside and things to love with Jackson ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft, there are some clear concerns that are impacting his stock. These issues could result in a limited role early in his NFL career.
There are some genuine concerns about Jackson’s strength at this moment in his career. He played at 275 pounds early in his USC tenure; illness saw him lose a lot of weight. While he played light due to a transition to OLB from defensive end in 2020, that has been to the detriment of his play strength. Jackson wins solely with speed alone at this time. He’ll need to develop some strength to be impactful at the next level.
As mentioned above, Jackson needs to work on his pass-rush plan. He has the length to be disruptive at the point of attack, but he doesn’t currently have a ton of weapons in his armory. Stringing counter moves together will be vital for his development.
Additionally, he could improve his handwork to be more of a threat in the ground game. Currently, he’s excellent at pursuing in space. However, if he could work to use his length to his advantage in disengaging from blockers, that would make him a more impactful run defender. Strength is also an issue here. The USC OLB struggles to set the edge in the ground game.
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.
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 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’s NFL Draft ascension
Jackson ended his sophomore year with second-team All-Pac-12 recognition for the second consecutive season. As a result, he was expected to challenge Kayvon Thibodeaux at the top of the edge class in the 2022 NFL Draft. Unfortunately for the USC OLB, the 2021 college football season didn’t live up to expectations for him or the Trojans.
That’s not to say there weren’t highlights and glimpses of the pass-rush promise that Jackson possesses in 2021. The USC OLB was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week following a performance against Washington State where he forced a fumble that the Trojans recovered for a touchdown. He also tallied a tackle for loss in over half of his 11 appearances.
Leading the team with 8 tackles for loss, including 5 sacks, Jackson earned second-team All-Pac-12 recognition. Although his junior season may not have lived up to expectation, there is still significant NFL Draft interest in the USC OLB, with a reportedly high number of team visits during the pre-draft process.
Jackson also flashed his athletic upside across the NFL Combine and USC Pro Day, recording an 8.60 Relative Athletic Score. He posted excellent vertical (36.5″) and broad (10’7″) jumps. Meanwhile, his shuttle (4.28 seconds) and three-cone (7.09 seconds) were also impressive. He won’t achieve that first-round hype from the summer, but it would be a surprise to see Jackson slide past the late second-round range in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Tony Pauline’s scouting report for Drake Jackson
Positives: Versatile defensive front-seven player who can come out of a three-point stance and stand over tackle. Breaks down well, plays with proper pad level, and effectively uses his hands to protect himself. Quick in all aspects of his game, easily changes direction, and chases the action hard.
Fires off the snap, can bend off the edge, and quickly closes to plays. Covers a good amount of area on the field, shows ability in pursuit, and makes a lot of plays in space. Remains disciplined with assignments and wraps up tackling.
Negatives: Lacks bulk and gets controlled at the point or easily knocked from his angle of attack by a single blocker. Not smooth dropping off the line into space. Long speed is a concern.
Analysis: Jackson is an instinctive, disciplined defensive front-seven prospect with a variety of skills. In many ways, he reminds me of a better version of former Trojan Devon Kennard, an eight-year veteran now playing with the Cardinals.