With the San Francisco 49ers going on the NFL Draft clock in less than 20 days, by now NFL fans have heard how the team has the need for defensive linemen.
Trench help remains a growing debate among fans of the 49ers and how the team can address that immediately at the No. 61 slot in the second round.
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But if the ‘Niners do pivot over to the defensive trenches, here’s what they could be facing as noted by Matt Barrows of The Athletic: Nearly 10 trench defenders, including past projected 49er Arnold Ebiketie of Penn State, all going before the 49ers make their selection.
Barrows, though, believes in his recent mock draft that the “best of the rest” from the defensive linemen group could be available for the 49ers’ taking.
Who the 49ers Can Get From Deep DL Group
The pick? Drake Jackson, defensive end, USC.
Jackson is among the list of 2022 NFL Draft prospects who spoke with the 49ers at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis during the first week of March. Jackson also told reporters he has a family member who’s a 49ers fan:
Here’s why Barrows picks the USC Trojan as the 49ers’ first selection:
“The 49ers have one of the last picks in the second round, and as many as 10 edge rushers — from Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson to Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie — may be taken before the 49ers are even on the clock for the first time. The best of the rest is Jackson, who could fall a bit further than the others for several reasons.”
What are those reasons as to why Jackson could fall toward the end of the second round?
“He’s been dealing with lingering hamstring issues and didn’t work out in full at the NFL Scouting Combine of USC’s initial pro day,” Barrows explained.
But the cat-quick 6-foot-3, 254-pound Jackson is considered the one guy who can potentially transform the 49ers’ pass rush from good to dominant as he fits in with a DL room featuring a deep edge rotation of Nick Bosa, Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu, the resigned Jordan Willis and the return of Kerry Hyder. Yet, Barrows believes Jackson “has that potential” to elevate the already stout play of the 49ers’ defensive line unit.
“He’s got the burst, balance and long arms for getting around the edge quickly,” Barrows wrote.
Film Study on Jackson
In watching Jackson, it’s easy to understand why he would look like a natural fit for defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.
Size is subjective in watching how the 49ers’ trenches operate. Last season, undersized Arden Key — at 240-pounds — still got around interior offensive linemen in moving inside before finishing second on the ‘Niners in sacks. Arik Armstead slid inside as a 290-pound “B” gap defender who had to take on double teams versus centers and guards outweighing him by nearly 40 pounds…and still finished with a career-high 63 total tackles and posted six sacks — his most since 2019.
Jackson may be entering the league at under 260-pounds, but his get off after the snap then second gear in getting upfield intrigued those who watched him at the Combine.
Here’s what else can get teams gravitating toward him including the 49ers: He shed more than 20 pounds to show off this kind of quickness:
Anthony Treash of Pro Football Focus called Jackson one with “great bend and ankle flexion” who also showed some growth.
Jackson, though, has been described as a player missing a power element and one who struggled facing the run. Lance Zierlein of nfl.com pointed out how Jackson lacks play strength but has the frame to add muscle and mass. Zierlein also calls the USC talent as a prospect with the traits or talent to be an above average backup.
Meanwhile, Derrik Klassen of Bleacher Report called Jackson a “toolsy pass rusher who may benefit a good deal from NFL weight training and coaching” in his draft evaluation. And Jackson’s NFL comparison by Klassen? Randy Gregory of the Dallas Cowboys.
Jackson has second round value. He could be the option if there are no other available options for the 49ers is they go with defensive end help.