Second surprise: The USC standout not becoming the immediate impact defender many envisioned right away.
But, that doesn’t mean expectations have been tempered for the edge rusher. In fact, there’s the belief from one analyst on Wednesday, February 22 that Jackson will have this title: A breakout candidate in his second NFL season by Pro Football Focus.
Sam Monson of PFF named the 49ers rookie one of two edge rushers anticipated to explode in season two alongside James Houston IV of the Detroit Lions. Monson writes how Jackson’s “rare physical ability for the position” is still coveted by NFL teams, which makes the past Trojan star a candidate to deliver in season two.
“There were a lot of underwhelming rookie edge rushers this past season, and Jackson barely cleared 300 snaps for the 49ers. He finished with just 16 pressures from 228 pass-rushing snaps, but he has rare physical ability for the position and the kind of textbook speed and bend around the edge NFL teams are searching for,” Monson wrote.
He also added that Jackson’s slow development came as no surprise — given the spot Jackson is placed in.
“Edge rusher is a position that can take a little time to adjust to,” Monson said. He adds “the 49ers could still use a solid rusher in their rotation, so Jackson should get opportunities to show he can take a big step in Year 2.”
Increased Chances Could Come for Jackson for This Reason
As Jackson got his brief turns in the edge rush room, Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu ended up taking the bulk of the snaps next to Nick Bosa.
Now both could likely be on their way out.
Ebukam and Omenihu are among six defensive linemen listed as unrestricted free agents for the 2023 cycle that begins March 15. And in the edge rush room, the duo represents four with the UFA label.
And the 49ers may have difficulty keeping both and all four. In the case of Ebukam, he’s projected to make $7.7 million annually and score a $23.295 million deal per Spotrac. Omenihu, who was brought in via trade before the November 2021 deadline, played on a base salary of $2.450 million and could be coveted by teams for his ability to play as a “wide 9” defensive end and using his length on the interior.
Jordan Willis and Kerry Hyder were two others who lined up inside. If all leave, it immediately swings the door open for Jackson to officially plant himself as the opposite rusher of Bosa, which was the clear original plan.
Jackson Could be in Position to Follow Current Trend on 49ers
Say Jackson does indeed breakout in Year No. 2, his trajectory would continue a current trend going on inside the 49ers’ building: Draft picks who broke out in their second season.
Safety Talanoa Hufanga is one example. After playing sparingly in his rookie season, he emerged as a Pro Bowler in 2022. Cornerback Deommodore Lenoir is another — who emerged as a starter and led the 49ers defense in interceptions during the playoffs in season two. Even Pro Bowl inside linebacker Fred Warner bettered his marks in tackles for a loss, solo stops, sacks, forced fumbles and pass breakups in his second season.
Even if the 49ers do address the edge rush room, it’s highly likely Jackson will get increased opportunities. Those opportunities will increase his chances of becoming the second-year breakout candidate PFF is predicting, while also continuing the trend of stellar sophomore NFL seasons for 49er defenders.