Pro Football Focus named the steals of the NFL Draft for each day. On Day 2, PFF named Drake Jackson a steal:
San Francisco got a promising developmental pass-rusher with Drake Jackson much later than any team should have.
Jackson may lack a power element and still is raw as a pass-rusher, but there’s no denying the USC edge defender’s ceiling. He has the explosiveness, agility and flexibility that coaches dream of having on the edge. And the fact that he showed some growth in 2021 should be encouraging.
Jackson went from a 66.6 pass-rush grade in 2020 to 88.3 in 2021.
Continuous improvement year to year is what you’re looking for in a prospect. The final line from PFF shows Jackson’s pass-rush grade jumping 22 points. That tells us the high-end athlete is beginning to figure out how to win.
Sports Info Solutions has a “true pressure rate” stat that isolates straight dropbacks — since they’re more likely to be similar across situations. Jackson ranked fifth among all edge rushers in true pressure rate and was tied with top-5 pick Kayvon Thibodeaux and 1% better than No. 2 overall selection Aidan Hutchinson.
Let’s talk about Jackson’s lack of strength. Again, at 21, we can assume that he’ll grow into his frame and get stronger. I’d expect defensive line coach Kris Kocurek to refine Jackson’s technique, which will make him a stronger player right away.
Jackson being the one to initiate contact will go a long way. As will not exposing his chest to offensive tackles and learning how to play with proper leverage. Jackson showed more than flashes as a Trojan.
It’s on the 49ers to get an athlete like him to evolve. Having strong hands is a major plus. Now, Jackson needs to learn how to consistently use them and turn speed into power. Adjusting to the NFL and playing at 270 plus pounds may take some time, but if the lightbulb can come on for Jackson midway through his rookie season, the 49ers defense has a chance to be a doimnant unit once again.