The videos of Drake Jackson doing backflips into a swimming pool or crazy workouts in the gym will never get old. It’ll be easy to root for an uber-athletic edge rusher who is nowhere near his ceiling.
But what are realistic expectations for the second-round pick? The 49ers have taken a defensive lineman with their first pick in 2015, ‘17, ‘19, ‘20, and ‘22. So let’s take a look at how each of those rookies performed.
Arik Armstead only started one game in 2015, finishing the season with three tackles for loss and ten QB hits. In 2017, Solomon Thomas, a player who should’ve gone closer to 33 than three overall, finished with three sacks, 41 tackles, ten tackles for loss, and 11 QB hits.
The Nick Bosa pick looks to be OK. The two-time Pro Bowler had nine sacks, 47 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and an incredible 25 QB hits as a rookie.
Finally, Javon Kinlaw, who didn’t have an offseason or preseason due to COVID-19, had 33 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three tackles for loss, and four QB hits during his first year.
As you can see, one of these is unlike the other. So perhaps a better way to take in this information is it’s more likely for rookies to come along slowly and be underwhelming than come close to a season like Bosa.
So, where does Drake Jackson finish statistically in 2022? Ravens rookie pass rusher Odafe Oweh was viewed as a raw but athletic edge rusher coming into the league. He was the 31st pick in the 2021 draft. Per Sports Info Solutions, Oweh finished with 33 tackles, 11 for loss, five sacks, and 40 pressures. That feels like Jackson’s ceiling as a rookie.
Oweh did that on 422 pass rushes. For example, Arden Key had 240 pass-rush attempts last year. So, Jackson may fall somewhere in the middle of those numbers.
In the second round of last year’s draft, pass rushers include Azeez Ojulari, Dayo Odeyingbo, and Carlos Basham, who also went 61 overall. Ojulari had eight sacks on 410 pass rushes, adding 17 hits and 35 total pressures. The 49ers would be thrilled to get that type of production from Jackson. But, again, he’d have to show he’s ready for that type of workload.
Odeyingbo and Basham both played on teams that were playoff contenders and with depth at the position. Odeyingbo didn’t register a full sack in 137 pass-rushing attempts, while Basham had 2.5 sacks on only 98 attempts.
I keep coming back to Key, whose production will be difficult to replace. His sack percentage was nearly a point higher than Ojulari’s. If Jackson has the same splits as Key as a rookie in a limited role, the Niners will be thrilled.
Keys 30 pressures, eight tackles for loss, and 17 QB hits don’t seem that far-fetched for Jackson, given the talent on the defensive line. Like Key, Jackson would have to have two or three “wow” games to achieve those numbers, which isn’t asking for much. Remember, Key didn’t come out of his shell until later in the season.
The trajectory for Key’s first year with San Francisco could mirror Jackson’s. It took Key until Week 8 to notch a game where he had multiple pressures. He didn’t have his first sack until Week 9. Then, the lightbulb came on. We started to see Key string sacks together, making it difficult to take him off the field.
Jackson’s bar for 2022 should be what Arden Key did in 2021.