One year ago, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton identified edge rusher as one of his team's major needs as they headed into the 2018 offseason. They set their sites on Marcus Davenport from U.T.S.A. on draft night, and pulled off a trade with the Green Bay Packers to move up to the 14th overall pick to get him. Davenport had a solid rookie season, although slightly derailed due to a foot injury, finishing with 4.5 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and six tackles for loss. Davenport looks like a potential star, giving the Saints the edge presence opposite All-Pro end Cameron Jordan that will benefit the entire defense. New Orleans lost veteran end Alex Okafor to free agency this offseason though, raising some questions about depth at the position. Trey Hendrickson, a 3rd down draft pick in 2017, may be up to the task of providing a solid rotation. The Saints reportedly pursued Robert Quinn in an attempted trade with Miami though, and have met with former Lions end Ezekiel Ansah as well, telling us that perhaps they'd like to add at least another pass rushing presence on the edge. One player who could be available to them in this month's draft could fit that mold, as today we take a look at a prospect from what was at one time a collegiate football factory.
Joe Jackson, DE (Miami Fla.)
Jackson was a three sport star at Gulliver Prep in Homestead, Fl., excelling in football, basketball, and track. A four star recruit in football, he stayed in his hometown to attend the University of Miami, where he made an instant impact as a true freshman with 7.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, forced 2 fumbles and recovered 2 more. He was a fully established starter for an extremely disruptive Hurricanes defense by 2017, contributing 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and 10.5 tackles for loss. Though Miami took a step back in 2018, Jackson's play stood out much of the year. He returned an interception for a touchdown along with being credited with 3 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and notched career highs with 8.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. Jackson finished his career with "The U" with 22.5 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss, standing out on one of the more opportunistic defenses in college football.
Jackson may have hurt his draft status a bit by an average performance at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, fueling critics who doubt his athleticism. He posted 22 reps in the bench press, a 27 inch vertical leap, and 109 inches in the broad jump.
Za'Darius Smith (Packers)
Joe Jackson has intrigued scouts due to his prototypical NFL size, good length, and tremendous natural strength. He is a relentless defender who bulldozes opposing linemen out of their stance to gain advantage. He uses an effective inside move and pure brute force to burst his way into an opponent's backfield. Jackson has decent build-up speed in pursuit of the ball and arrives to the ball carrier with a vicious finish, often able to jar the ball loose with engulfing tackles. He is difficult to contain with one on one blocking, and crashes inside well against the run. Jackson shows excellent recognition and reaction of screens and misdirection, able to blow up plays in their infancy.
The biggest criticisms of Jackson's game point to his lack of finesse and initial speed off the snap. He isn't a fluid athlete in space, and doesn't possess a wide array of pass rushing moves or great bend around the edge, relying instead on power moves and upper body movement. He must learn to maintain a lower pad level more often, using his strength advantage for better leverage and drive forward.
Joe Jackson has been projected to be drafted anywhere between the late 2nd to 4th round. His natural fit seems to be at a 4-3 end, where he has the potential to develop into an every down defender. Jackson plays the run well and has tremendous upside as a pass rusher. He is a tenacious sideline to sideline player with well-rounded ability and the potential to develop into a force. Possibly a great addition to an already talented and disruptive Saints defensive line rotation.