After a redshirt year in 2009, Gabe Jackson jumped into the Bulldogs' starting lineup at left guard in 2010 and stayed there for four seasons, comprising all 52 games of his collegiate career. His 2012 and '13 seasons were particularly fine; Jackson didn't give up a sack either year, and served as a two-time team captain. As a junior, he received Second Team All-America honors, and was elevated to first team after his senior campaign, after stymieing top SEC interior rushers Anthony Johnson, Ego Ferguson and Kelsey Quarles. For his efforts, he was the first offensive lineman to be awarded the Conerly Trophy, annually given to the best college football player in the state of Mississippi.
Jackson is a physical run-blocker at the point of attack, with very strong hands and the power to drive defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage. He plays a physical game, and exhibits a mean streak. Jackson is an enforcer who can bully smaller linemen and linebackers. By the same token, Jackson's remarkably quick off the snap for a man of his size; he's nimble enough to get to the second level and finishes blocks well. That said, speed will be his nemesis at the next level: at Senior Bowl practices, Jackson struggled to block quicker defensive tackles.
Enough talk; lets look at the tape. The Sultans of Scouting at Draft Breakdown have five of Jackson's games cut-up for your viewing pleasure. Watch him in a 2012 two-fer against National Champ Alabama and Tennessee and against the aforementioned LSU interior linemen in a 2013 tilt against the Bayou Bengals.
And once you've got your eyeful, check out what our esteemed scouting panel has to say. As with the other offensive line profiles, I've asked FOB (Friend of BtB) Long Ball of Drafttek, an offensive line specialist, to weigh in on the prospects.
Rob Rang and Derek Stephens (CBSSports.com): 4th-ranked OG; 72nd overall
Strengths: Demonstrates not only the raw power expected of a man of his size but also surprisingly nimble feet and balance while in pass protection, to mirror quick rushers. Jackson plays with excellent knee bend and has long arms, which help him stay square and in control of his opponent in pass pro. He's a powerful drive blocker who uses his natural leverage advantage well, showing good leg drive to push defenders off the ball. Despite his girth, Jackson shows good lateral agility and balance to find fits at the second level. Defenders are seldom able to disengage once Jackson locks in. Is not satisfied with simply occupying space, and prides himself on pancaking and rag-dolling opponents. Does a nice job of absorbing the bull rush with his lower half, and rarely surrenders more than a step or two before resetting and anchoring. Comes off the snap quickly and gets up to speed quickly when asked to pull.
Weaknesses: Doesn't appear quite as comfortable in space, particularly when headhunting at the second level, as he struggles to break down and redirect with suddenness. Is slow to go vertical when navigating through "trash" and will get tangled up. Tends to zone in when competing one-on-one, and will lose awareness of his surroundings at times. Drops his head and throws himself at defenders too often, and will get caught over-extending in pass protection.
Compares To: Larry Warford, Guard, Detroit Lions - Jackson's rare and surprising combination of size, quickness and power should remind a lot of scouts of the 2013 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Warford. Like the former Kentucky Wildcat, Jackson possesses the power to dominate opponents physically, while displaying quickness and fluidity to wall off the interior pass rush, and exhibits the burst and awareness to get down field and block for the run. Look for teams to value Jackson higher than they did Warford, after the 2013 3rd round selection took the league by storm last season, with many of the same traits.
Gary Horton (ESPN.com): 4th-ranked OG; 86th overall
Pass Protection: At best matching up with power. Strong, big and tough to move off spot. Powerful punch can knock pass rushers off balance. Can shoot hands inside and lock on. However, inconsistent hand placement and struggles to sustain when doesn't get good initial fit. Below average foot speed. Struggles to stay square and redirect. Can lunge and get caught off balance.
Run Blocking: Overwhelms smaller defensive tackles with size and strength. Powerbase to move defender off ball when keeps pads down. Can lean and fall off block when plays high but generally walls off assignment long enough to create seam for back. Uses width and angles to cut off linebackers at second level.
Awareness: Adequate overall awareness but slow recognizing some line stunts and blitzes in pass pro. Better in the run game. Flashes above average instincts and ability to adjust when defender takes himself out of play. Keeps head up and locates second level assignments.
Toughness: Not a relentless grinder and endurance may be an issue but defenders pay when they poke the bear. Can block through the whistle and get under defender's skin. Leans on defenders and makes it tough for them to get up once he has them on ground. Protects teammates.
Intangibles: Son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Jackson. Father was high school coach. Hard worker.
Dan Shonka (Ourlads): 7th-ranked OG; 95th overall
Four-year starter at left guard. Is a nasty and physical long armed power player with a wide body. Pushing 340 pounds, he majors in run blocking. Average quickness for a man his size. Has been blessed with an inordinate amount of tools to play on the next level such as flexibility, size and knee bend. Can anchor against power players. Flashes a boxer's punch in pass protection. Can improve his change of direction quickness by dropping some excess weight. Must improve his angles to cut off pursuit on the second level.
Senior Bowl notes: massive wide thick body frame with functional foot mobility and athletic agility. Shows some body stiffness that hinders him with his change of direction movements. Struggled all week as a one-on-one pass protector because he lacks body and hip flexibility. Fringe hand placement. Has okay playing strength if he gets his hands on defenders with the first punch. Has natural anchor abilities.
Long Ball (Drafttek.com): 4th-ranked OG; 46th overall
336 lbs. is a big, big man, and Jackson will excel in a power-blocking scheme, mano-a-mano. Footwork is good for a man his size in pass protection, as he is able to mirror quick opponents with excellent knee bend and long arms; however, he has to break his tendency to drop his head and not pick up secondary responsibilities in pass protection. His lateral agility is good and he comes off the snap quickly and seems to thoroughly enjoy pancaking opponents. He struggles some in space and this is where the Cowboys have a decision to make: do they want to employ more ZBS tactics in the running game or fortify the interior for the passing game?
Nolan Nawrocki (NFL.com): 2nd-ranked OG; 48thoveral
Strengths: Exceptional girth with long arms and a thick lower body. Fundamentally sound with advanced technique. Quick out of his stance. Good anchor. Strong, efficient punch (can pop and recoil). Keeps his hands inside and controls defenders. Mirrors in pass protection. Walls off running lanes. Understands positioning and angles. Athletic enough to short pull effectively -- nice balance and body control for a big man. Good eyes, awareness and reactions. Smart and tough. Durable four-year starter. Professional makeup.
Weaknesses: Lacks explosive power to shock defenders. Does not blow defenders off the ball in the run game. Average overall athletic ability and lateral agility. Is unsudden and lacks elite recovery quickness. Occasionally fails to dig his heels in and gives ground vs. strong bull rushes. Stressed to cut off fast-flowing linebackers. Recorded the slowest 20-yard split (3.28 seconds) and tied for the slowest 40 time (5.63 seconds) of any player at the combine. Could require some patience with complex playbooks.
Draft Projection: Rounds 2-3
Bottom Line: Big, thickly built, relatively nuanced blocker who brings a steadying presence to the interior offensive line. Dependability and effectiveness blocking for pass and run combined with sterling intangibles, including football intelligence, make him capable of starting as a rookie and holding down a position for years to come.
Our scouts are roughly in agreement about Jackson; Nawrocki and Long Ball have him in the mid to late forties, while the others all have him slotted comfortably in round three. A couple of different scouting reports said that, even though Jackson is a big-bodied guy who appears build for man blocking, he's actually better suited to a zone blocking system, probably due to his nimble feet. To my mind, the Cowboys preferred OG profile is that of Nate Newton and Larry Allen: huge guys who could move like 290-pounders. Jackson is that kind of player. Because of the scheme fit he provides, therefore, I'm going to bump the ex-Bulldog to the high point in his grading range, and put him in round two on my "little board."
Yesterday, I noted that Notre Dame's Zack Martin is the likeliest of the Cowboys first-round targets to still be on the board when they pick at #16. If they do select Martin, the Cowboys will spend the rest of the draft chasing defensive linemen, particularly weakside ends. If, however, they manage to secure a good seven-nine technique end in the first round, then I think Jackson would be a superb second day addition, in either round two or three, and would provide an instant upgrade to the Cowboys offensive line.
Later today: Now that you've seen how the national draftniks rate Jackson, stay tuned for our in-house scout, Joey Ickes, who will post a detailed film study of the former MSU star's game.
Tomorrow: North Dakota State OG/ OT Billy Turner