The 49ers selected Drake Jackson with the 61st overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Jackson’s rookie season may seem like a disappointment to some, considering he was inactive down the stretch and for the playoff games.
At the time, Kyle Shanahan explained the team needed more help along the interior, so San Francisco elected to have more defensive tackles active, making Jackson, an edge rusher, the odd man out.
Shanahan went into great detail Tuesday about how Jackson hit the proverbial rookie wall:
“I think Drake showed a lot this year on what he can be. But he needs to get to what he can be. I thought he was close to that toward the beginning of the year, but it’s a long season. I think he learned as the year goes, if you lose any power in this league, it gets a lot harder.
We had a decent group of rushers. As the year went out and we got toward the end, it became too long for him. His body wasn’t quite ready for what we needed. If we had an injury or something, we were definitely going to get him up. But by the end of the season, we felt better towards some other guys.
He’s still the exact same talent that we drafted. He’s still the same person. But like I said to a lot of our guys in our meeting yesterday. People don’t get what anyone means by how long an NFL season is. All of the college players come in and say, is this what I hear, is this what I hear, is this the rookie wall?
It’s the same stuff for veterans. Trying to mentally strain the pressure of what you’re trying to do when you’re trying to do more than just play your games and get to the playoffs. I think our whole team felt that this year. Everyone is exhausted. That’s what I want people to know going away.
Yeah, I’m going to get away because I need to recover. But everything in these next six months is dedicated to how I can make it through that. And making it through that isn’t totally natural. You can’t just show up and do that stuff. And it goes for rookies more than anything.
When you ask about Drake, he’s got the ability to really help us. So we’re counting on him to do the right things and maximize his ability.”
Based on that answer, Jackson needs to attack the weight room in this offseason, eat right, and take care of his body, so he can not only maximize his talent but his frame.
During Jackson’s final season at USC, he was playing closer to 240–245 pounds. As a rookie, he shot up to the 270s. So, it’s no surprise that as the year went along he lost some of his strength, as Jackson hadn’t played at his current weight since he was a freshman.
Jackson’s most significant contributions as a rookie came by way of batted passes. Despite playing nearly half of the snaps as the players ahead of him, Jackson finished tied for ninth among all defensive lineman with five batted passes this season.
In Year 2, Jackson must figure out how he wants to win as a pass-rusher. PFF charts win percentage, and Jackson finished in the 20th percentile among all defensive linemen. Adding strength would help Jackson defend the run as well as play multiple positions.
Jackson doesn’t turn 22 until April, so he’s nowhere near a finished product. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Jackson was thrust into a starter type of role next season with Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu free agents this offseason.
What the 49ers do with those two players during free agency will tell us how they feel about the development and progress Jackson has made.