Family first — that’s the mindset that Austin Jackson lives by. Before the start of the college football season, Jackson found out that he was a one-hundred-percent match for his little sister’s bone marrow transplant. Going through the procedure on his lower back, Jackson was out of commission for about a month.
That didn’t matter to him, though. It was about giving his sister hope and a new life, and he did just that. One month after the procedure, Jackson was back on the practice field for the USC Trojans. On the field, you’ll immediately notice the offensive lineman. He’s listed at 6’6″ and 310 pounds and is the starting left tackle. In 2018, he started in 12 games for the Trojans at left tackle, and he’s since held that position down consistently.
As we’ve entered the 2019 season, not many people have talked about the true junior. That will all change as we take a look at one of the more talented offensive linemen in the 2020 NFL Draft. Beyond just protecting and helping his family off the field, he’s also protecting and helping his offense. Let’s see what makes Jackson so talented on the field and why he’s currently on the rise on my 2020 NFL Draft board!
Timely Hand Placement and Grip Strength
Not only is the placement of an offensive lineman’s hands important, but so is the timing of his initial hand placement. Beyond just good hand placement and fast hands, you want an offensive lineman that can display good grip strength. More often than not, this leaves the offensive lineman in control, and they’ll have a much higher chance of winning their battle. Whenever you watch Austin Jackson, he shows all of these traits.
As you can see from the play above, Jackson will show a variety of traits that we look for in a starting-caliber offensive tackle. First of all, look at how patient he is as he waits for Bradlee Anae (EDGE #6 – Utah). Jackson lets Anae go on his initial path and then he clamps onto his chest plate with good placement and timing. Secondly, look at the way Jackson controls Anae with his grip strength. Being able to steer and maintain control will help Jackson win battles on Sundays. Lastly, just watch his footwork. He doesn’t rush through his kick slide, nor does he cross his feet. It’s all-natural, and Jackson looks beyond comfortable at left tackle.
Turn on the Austin Jackson tape and you’ll immediately notice his ability to win with the snatch-trap. He packs powerful hands behind every punch, but his footwork is clean, and that allows him to win plenty of reps. Aside from that, look at the way he counters edge rushers that have good length or a nice blend of speed and power. He consistently uses that snatch-trap technique where he clubs through their arms and “snatches” away their balance, and this “traps” the edge rusher to the ground.
The first example of Jackson using the snatch-trap technique is against Notre Dame edge rusher Khalid Kareem (#53). You’ll notice good burst off the snap from Kareem, and this catches Jackson off guard, so much so that he leads with his head, but he immediately goes for the snatch-trap technique. He clubs at the elbow and takes Kareem to the ground. This is a win for Jackson every time.
Next, it’s the same game, but Jackson goes back to the well. He notices that Khalid Kareem (Notre Dame EDGE #53) goes for the long-arm technique to win off the edge, but Jackson trusts his ability to win with the snatch-trap. The only difference is that he only uses one arm to win this rep, and that’s because Kareem is using so much momentum to lean forward to try and get the edge. It doesn’t matter, though. Jackson comes to the table prepared and has a natural feel for this technique.
Lastly, Jackson patiently waits for the edge rusher to create separation, and once the edge rusher does, he goes straight to the snatch-trap technique. He’s mastered this technique and is beyond confident in using it. Having this in his arsenal is a huge boon for his draft stock.
Every Sunday, you’ll see offensive linemen across the league executing reach blocks. For the USC offensive line, you’ll notice it often with their tendency to run inside- and outside-zone running plays. Austin Jackson has helped USC average just over 140 rushing yards per game in 2019, and a lot of it has to do with his ability when reach blocking.
Against Fresno State, he’s got a defensive end aligned in the B gap as a 4i technique. Despite the defensive end shooting the gap, Jackson shows quickness off the snap and drives his body into the hip pocket of the defensive end. Meanwhile, he gets his helmet on the outside shoulder of the defensive end and drives him out of the play. This creates a hole big enough for a semi-truck to drive through, and ultimately, it leads to a touchdown for USC.
For the 2020 NFL Draft, most of us have heard or talked about Andrew Thomas and Tristan Wirfs. Rightfully so, both players are the top of the class when we talk about offensive tackles. However, Austin Jackson isn’t too far behind, and his name needs to be talked about more frequently.
Since arriving to USC, Jackson has been on the field. During his freshman season (2017), he played in all 14 games but was primarily a rotational piece for the offensive line. Once he got into his sophomore season (2018), Jackson took over the left tackle spot, and he’s now made 21 consecutive starts for the Trojans. You can see that he’s displaying his experience on every snap, and he’s getting better and better.
There’s a reason why he’s not in the same conversation as Thomas or Wirfs, though. At times, he’s shown that he will lunge or lead with his head, and it’s allowed edge rushers to counter back inside. Fortunately, he can find ways to break that bad habit, and with his work ethic, he will. Right now, Jackson has more positives to his game than negatives, and he’s going to get some first-round consideration. If anything, it’ll be a late first-round grade from the consensus, but at this point, he’s already earned a top-50 grade on my 2020 NFL Draft Board. Do yourself a favor, folks. Start watching Austin Jackson because he’s going to be the left tackle on the rise.