This season, the 49ers are slowly incorporating rookie second-round pick, Drake Jackson, into the lineup. That was expected, given the depth at defensive line heading into the year. But Kris Kocurek has played 14 different defensive linemen this season due to numerous injuries.
When he’s played, Jackson has been active. His four batted passes lead the team by a wide margin. And when you consider it comes on 130 true pass sets, according to PFF, it is even more impressive.
So, where was Jackson on Saturday? Kyle Shanahan explained in the post-game press conference:
Why was DL Drake Jackson down today? Was that partly because Willis was playing so well?
“No, that was truly because of just who we were playing. We usually have five edge guys up, four inside guys and we had a feeling they were going to really try to run the ball. They’re number one in the league in time of possession that’s why they have a real good formula to us. Knowing [DT Javon] Kinlaw was and we didn’t want to play too many plays. We had to be careful that if someone did go down, we didn’t want [DL Arik] Armstead to have to take too much, so I made the decision to go with five inside guys, which we had to pick one of the guys to be less on the outside and Drake lost to Jordan because of special teams.”
This statement from Shanahan explains it was game-plan specific. Jordan Willis has earned his reps since his return. On Saturday, Willis had his best game of the season, recording a pair of run stops, a quarterback hit, and two other pressures. He’s also stout against the run, an area that isn’t considered Jackson’s strength.
We’ve seen players lose reps if they aren’t contributing on special teams. This is no different. Teams with a pass-heavy game plan will see more of Jackson. At this point in his early career, it is where he’s most effective.
No need for any alarm. This feels like a one-week situation.