Drake Jackson
(Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Kentucky center Drake Jackson could be a fantastic late-round offensive line target for the New York Jets in the 2021 NFL draft.

Desperately in need of help on the interior offensive line, it seems plausible to think the New York Jets could consider investing heavily in the position throughout the draft, adding multiple prospects to build a long-term pipeline of talent at the position.

One prospect who I think would be a great late-round flier for Joe Douglas and company is Kentucky center Drake Jackson. A Kentucky native and childhood Wildcats fan, Jackson is a prospect who is unanimously projected to be selected on the third day of the draft, but there are aspects of his resume that suggest he could become a late-round steal.

A native of Versailles, Kentucky, Jackson was listed by 247Sports as the nation’s No. 2 center in the 2016 recruiting class. He played 47 games over his four years with the Wildcats, making 44 straight starts at center.

Jackson improved his overall grade at Pro Football Focus each year, culminating with an elite redshirt senior season in 2020. His 86.4 overall grade ranked fifth-best among 128 qualified FBS centers and second-best among SEC centers, trailing only Alabama’s Landon Dickerson, a possible top-50 pick in this year’s draft.

In pass protection, Jackson yielded only three pressures over 305 snaps throughout the 2020 season, a 0.98% rate that placed at the position’s 94th percentile.

Jackson’s size is considered his prime concern, as he checks in at only 6-foot-2 and 292 pounds with very limited length, but his smaller frame also gives him an athletic advantage that he used to dominate as a run blocker in the zone game. He posted a zone blocking grade of 88.0 at PFF that was up at the position’s 95th percentile.

A good athlete with solid technique who has four years of starting experience against SEC competition, Jackson has the chance to be a reliable backup center in the NFL with an opportunity to develop into a starter over time.


Jackson wears jersey No. 52 and lines up at center.

When you’re a 292-pound interior offensive lineman, you aren’t going to be taking many souls in the trenches, so it’s imperative that you use your smaller frame to your advantage and make an impact through athleticism, movement skills, positioning, and technique. Jackson brings all of those things to the table, allowing him to thrive even as a smaller lineman.

Here’s a great display of Jackson’s open-field ability.

On a jet sweep, Jackson immediately kicks out to the second level to pick up the play-side linebacker. Seeing the linebacker taking a hard outside angle, Jackson shows good awareness and patience as he allows the linebacker to continue carrying himself toward the sideline before engaging on the block.

Once Jackson has a good angle, he fires both hands into the linebacker’s inside shoulder, driving him outside. Jackson latches on to the linebacker’s chest to prevent him from shedding, and the receiver zooms straight by for a big gain.

Jackson does a great job in a one-on-one with the nose tackle. The NT looks to win with a swim move to Jackson’s right side, but Jackson shuts it down as he catches the arm and works it down. Jackson resets his base, drops the anchor, and shoves the NT out of the passing lane once he leaps into the air.

On this next play, Jackson shows off his agility and technical prowess with an excellent one-on-one pass set that requires him to cover a lot of ground off the snap, and he holds up for an extended period of time to set up a deep shot.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at]jetsxfactor.com - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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2 years ago

As usual, an interesting, well-written, good article. That said, I don’t see JD drafting Jackson or any center other than Humphrey this year. The Jets like McGovern at C, and I believe that Dan Feeney has a $3 million guaranteed contract, so I don’t think the Jets will keep 3 Cs on their roster. Has he also played OG? If so, that would help, but if he is only a C, I don’t see much chance of his making the team.

You like him better and rate his athelticism and movement skills better than some other analyses I’ve read. I just don’t see him making the team this year, but he possibly could make the PS. With his limited size, I would be surprised if the Jets show any real interest in him unless he is fast and super athletic.

2 years ago

Absolutely! I’d love a guy like this in the 5th round say…and maybe as a guard in the NFL. As I’ve said before, if we don’t come out of this draft with at least 2 serious IOL and a prospect or two, late round or UDFA, I’ll be in shock, and I’d consider it organizational malpractice.

verge tibbs
verge tibbs
2 years ago

Good stuff. So is it just his size and short arms that makes him not a candidate to start right away? There’s so much to evaluating OL, it’s tough. I know most of them can’t start as rookies, last draft was an outlier

2 years ago
Reply to  Michael Nania

Right, and we have to consider our needs and the new scheme fit. One thing I don’t think the average fan appreciates is how much the coaching matters. If Saleh and LaFleur are who we hope and think they are they will figure out a way to get 5 guys upfront who can block, AND fit the way we’re going to play. They have to.

2 years ago

You have my attention