When a team moves up for an interior offensive lineman, it’s a clear indication they have him listed high on their draft board. Not only did the Detroit Lions do this on Friday night of the 2020 NFL Draft but they did it for an interior offensive lineman they coached at the Senior Bowl. For the Lions to have the chance to talk with and learn the practice habits of a player is a crucial part of the process. It’s a clear sign that they were comfortable with that process being that they drafted him 75th overall in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Coming out of Penncrest High School in Media, Pennsylvania, Jonah Jackson was a three-star recruit. He had offers from smaller schools such as Albany and Monmouth but his career path changed the movement when he got an offer from Rutgers. Once he arrived to Rutgers, he redshirted and then competed along the offensive line the following year. He was primarily a special teams player but did see time at right guard. Afterwards, he moved to center and had five starts there. During his last season at Rutgers, he started 11 games at right guard.
Despite being voted a team captain for the Scarlett Knights, an opportunity presented itself as a graduate transfer and Jackson took advantage of it. He transferred to Ohio State and earned the starting left guard position. He helped the Buckeyes get to a 13-1 record and earned himself a spot on the Senior Bowl roster and competed at the NFL Scouting Combine. Jackson’s skill set provides plenty of intrigue and immediate impact for Detroit.
Finishing with an edge
Every time you put on the tape, Jackson is putting someone in the dirt. It wasn’t as consistent as you’d like, but he could still overpower a defender with ease. So much so that he earned 77.8 run blocking grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF).
On the play above, the Cincinnati Bearcats are aligned in an even front. The defensive end is aligned as a 3-technique (outside shoulder of the guard) and then shifts over the left tackle to play as a 4i-technique (inside shoulder of OT). During the play, Jackson starts to help the left tackle but then reacts to the possibility of pressure coming inside. Once there’s no pressure, he looks for work and gives the defense end a shot. It’s not your ordinary one, either. He finishes the defensive end by putting him in the dirt.
On the next play, you’ve got Robert Windsor (Penn State DT #54) aligned as a 2i-technique (inside shoulder of the guard. The Buckeyes offensive line begins to reach block and despite the left tackle giving a helping hand to Jackson, it’s Jackson that takes complete control. He turns Windsor toward the sideline with his hands locked inside and his grip strength and leg drive to steer and drive him upfield. Lastly, he does a great job finishing and puts Windsor into the dirt.
Head on swivel — picking up blitzes
One of the key things you want to look for with an interior offensive lineman is how he handles blitzes and loopers. More often than not, you’re going to see a blitz or a looper through the A-gap or B-gap. If you don’t have an interior offensive lineman that can’t see upfield or keep his head on a swivel to pick up those types of blitzes or line stunts, it’ll be a rough day for him. It’s bit of the opposite for Jackson, though. He does a good job of keeping his head on a swivel and picking up those types of pressures.
On the play above, Jackson has a defensive tackle aligned as a 3-technique across from him. As the defensive tackle crosses his face, Jackson starts to follow him but he knows he’s got help by his center so he lets the defensive tackle go. In that process, he sees a blitz from the linebacker (Cameron Brown — Penn State #6) and he handles it with ease. He gives a solid punch, shows the ability to transition his weight from his post foot to his set foot and he lowers his pad level before making contact.
The play above is much different than the previous one. Jackson helps pick up an initial blitz (Cincinnati Bearcats LB #41) through the A-gap on the MIKE but this allows an opening in the B-gap. You can see how the Bearcats LB #6 starts to go through the same A-gap but then shuffles across and tries to get pressure into that B-gap. However, he’s met by Jackson who does a great job keeping his eyes up. Giving the quarterback additional time in the pocket to find an open receiver or tuck the ball and run for a touchdown is key to having the ability to start as a guard at the next level.
This is one area that Jackson could become more consistent. His pad level tends to raise when he’s operating in pass protection. Despite needed to refine his technique as a pass blocker, he’s only allowed one sack in 1,020 pass-blocking snaps (per PFF). In 2019, he only allowed nine hurries on the QB and he earned a 77.8 pass-blocking grade (per PFF). Here’s an example of why he’s so efficient in pass protection.
Against Indiana, you can see Jackson matching up against a defensive tackle that’s aligned as a 3-technique. Even though there’s not much of a pass rush being generated, Jackson shows a good base, good pad level and the ability to transition his weight with ease from his post foot to his set foot. This types of reps are promising in his development as a pass blocker at the next level.
Final thoughts and draft grade
It wasn’t surprising to see the Detroit Lions move up 10 spots during the third round of the 2020 NFL Daft. However, it was surprising to see them move up for an interior offensive lineman. But it’s a good move for them. They went after a player they got to know pretty well during the draft process and knowing what we know, they needed help on the interior of their offensive line.
Jackson will provide that as he’s got experience at both right guard and left guard. Prior to coming to Ohio State he had five starts at center, and had a full season starting at right guard. This past year, he had all 926 of his snaps for the Buckeyes at left guard and he helped pave the way for players like J.K. Dobbins to have over 2,000 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.
PFF compared him to Josh Sitton and if Lions fans remember anything about Sitton, it’s that he played with a chip on his shoulder. So much so, that he become four-time Pro Bowler and had 142 career starts for the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins.
With how well he adapted to life in Columbus, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jackson come into Detroit and earn a starting role at right guard. However, from my player profile on him (which you can see above), I think he’s more of a wait and see type of player during his first season. I like his skillset and the potential is there for him to grow along the Detroit Lions offensive line and become a solid starter up front.