How 49ers’ Top Pick Overcame a Limited NFL Combine: Exclusive

Drake Jackson

Getty Drake Jackson, the newest 49ers defender.

As edge defenders placed their hand to the Lucas Oil Stadium ground and made a beeline to the cones 40 yards in front of them in Indianapolis, there was one noticeable missing element: A 6-foot-3, 254-pound force of nature out of USC.

Drake Jackson was not sprinting and showing his straight line speed as he prepared for the NFL Draft. A hamstring ailment prevented him from sprinting that far…and became the first sign of his draft stock potentially dropping.

But outside of the widely scrutinized drill for NFL scouts, everything else became positive for Jackson before making his way to the San Francisco 49ers. And in an exclusive interview with Heavy before Jackson’s name was called in the second round, one trainer detailed how Jackson handled his comeback from that hamstring injury that prevented him from showcasing that speed and energy he showed in the Pac-12.

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Trainer Raved About Jackson’s Work Ethic

Nic Hill, who has trained a bevy of NFL athletes at Exos Sports and once got Odell Beckham Jr. back on track after his first ACL tear in the league, was the man at the forefront in getting the future 49er on track. Hill beamed about Jackson just hours before he was selected.

“Phenomenal athlete. Really hard worker. Great kid,” were the words Hill used to describe Jackson.

Hill still found a way to get Jackson on the run. Except, he gave him a shorter field to work with to prepare for Pro Day and the draft.

“I think some of the things we honed in on were cone drills,” Hill explained. “He unfortunately wasn’t able to run the 40 because of the hamstring injury he was dealing with. If he did run, he probably would’ve ran in that 4.6 or 4.7 range. It’s not a matter of speed for him because he can fly, especially for a guy that size.”

Jackson still showed the same relentless get-off that made him a trench disruptor in the “Land of Troy” when working with Hill.

“What we were able to do was focus on some of he shorter shuttle stuff. He ran a really good 3-cone, ran a good short shuttle and for a a guy in his position, he’s able to bend and lean and show how he can move his body in space. But overall, just a really positive prospect,” Hill said.

But was there any frustration from Jackson on not being able to perform in front of hordes of scouts and thousands of camp participants in Indy?

“I’m proud of him for what he was able to do and how he was able to approach the process. He didn’t get frustrated by any means — obviously with not being able to run the 40,” Hill said. “We focused on what he could control.”

The rest became history. Jackson delivered a Pro Day that caught plenty of NFL representatives’ attention. At one point, ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter received a tip that Jackson would sneak into the first round:

But Jackson ended up falling to 61…and became a gift pick to the 49ers.

Insiders Already See Fit in Defense

Fast forward to the evening hours, the now 270-pound Jackson — watching the draft with family at his home — got emotional after learning his name was called and attached to S.F.

He described the moment as having an out-of-body experience, literally.

“It felt like I walked outside of my body,” Jackson said via The Athletic’s David Lombardi. “I couldn’t believe it. My whole life has been dedicated to this moment.”

Lombardi was among those who praised the fit in S.F. for Jackson, saying he’s got “strong explosiveness metrics.”

Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus also praised the pick.

Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area said Jackson “hit it off” with Kris Kocurek, the ‘Niners defensive line coach.

Turns out, the Trojan wasn’t missing much when he opted not to run the 40 as Hill said.

“The positive side is, with his position, he’s not going to really be running past 10 yards,” Hill said. “You hate to say it: It’s not as important but it’s not as crucial as a receiver or defensive back from a testing standpoint.”

And even after Indy, Hill said everything was all positive before his client became a second-rounder.

“With Drake, it was all positive. There wasn’t anybody really writing him off or things like that.”

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