College: Jacksonville State
Position: Linebacker/Defensive end
College Stats: Finished his collegiate career with 60.5 tackles for loss and 27.5 sacks. First Team All-American in 2016 and 2017, OVC Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017, Buck Buchanan Award winner in 2017
The Ohio Valley Conference is not usually known for its defensive stars, but Darius Jackson became the first player from the conference to ever win the Buck Buchanan Award last season. Jackson was a force of nature in 2017, leading the Gamecocks to an undefeated regular season record against FCS foes with 55 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, and 23 quarterback hurries.
He gave opposing offensive linemen fits because of his skillset. Jackson was able to line up on the edge as a hybrid linebacker/defensive end and could blow past slower offensive tackles or use his strength to get past weaker ones. He was able to cut inside and blow up a number of run plays during his time as a Gamecock, making things even tougher on offenses having to face this stingy defense.
Maybe the best indication of his talent came in Jacksonville State’s playoff loss to Kennesaw State. The Owls run the option and would almost always run to the opposite side of wherever Jackson was lined up. They knew that he could blow up the run and put them in an unfavorable position and decided not to test him.
Jackson is not afraid to get down and dirty despite being a little undersized for a defensive lineman. He was more than happy to take on blockers and he took over a number of games in the fourth quarter because of his strong motor. NFL scouts have noticed that he is very hard-nosed, which is a must when you see his frame.
Although he does not have the measurables that many NFL teams desire, you can’t argue with his production. The OVC is one of the better conferences in the FCS and what he was able to do against good teams is awfully impressive.
There were a lot of pundits that thought Jackson could be a second day pick until he ran at the NFL Combine. Jackson’s 4.87 40-yard dash time really hurt his draft stock and led to many teams taking him off their boards. Most teams are looking for something more from their edge rushers.
Scouts have also commented on Jackson’s rigidity. His report is riddled with remarks about how he plays too upright and does not lean into blockers, leading to him being caught off-balance or out of position.
Currently, most are projecting Jackson to be a Priority Free Agent, but I think he has a good chance to be a late-round pick. A lot of his flaws are things that teams can work on, and his drive and production should be enough to get a team to take a flyer on him.