It doesn’t take a lot of digging into what the Broncos’ decision makers have said and done since the 2019 season ended to realize they’re looking at life after Garett Bolles. Both Vic Fangio and John Elway spoke highly of different members of the offensive line at the NFL Combine, but failed to sing their embattled left tackles’ praises. Then they went on to spend four of their 30 formal visits speaking with tackle prospects that are widely considered top 50 prospects.
One such prospect USC’s Austin Jackson.
- Has length teams covet in a left tackle.
- Elite athleticism with very good foot quickness, lateral mobility, and agility.
- Good bend and fluidity shows in how easily he can adjust to mirror opponents.
- Has a short memory, doesn’t let bad plays haunt him and adapts over game to opponent.
- Solid play strength, displays in his punch and playside run blocking.
- When he’s playing with sound technique he’s a good drive blocker.
- His good punches show an ability to latch on and control opponents.
- Good zone blocker when technique is on with the ability to reach and cut off at the second level.
- Very good ability to match and mirror opponents in pass set.
- Solid anchor, shows an ability to absorb a bull and redirect.
- Very good recovery quickness and doesn’t die easy.
- 20-years old with frame to add good weight.
- Adequate balance, needs to play within himself better as he gets too high.
- Adequate competitive toughness, his technical issues and play on the backside of runs hint that he may need hard coaching to improve his consistency from down to down.
- Marginal hand placement hurts saps punch and ability to stalemate opponents.
- Adequate gap blocker, too often comes out high which limits his power at the point of attack.
- Adequate in pass protection, misplaces punches, over-commits, opens the door to the B-gap, and will get off balance. See Utah snaps against Bradlee Anae.
- Gave bone marrow to save sister’s life before July 9, 2019.
What I’ve heard/read:
Austin Jackson is a promising OT prospect who has all of the physical tools to develop into a quality starter — but there’s significant improvement needed in his fundamentals before he’s ready to fill such a role. Jackson’s footwork, hand placement, weight distribution and framing of blocks are all currently inconsistent and early reps are likely to yield irregular and inconsistent results. Jackson is likely best in zone heavy rushing offenses, where his mobility can win spacing at the POA.
A two-year starter at left tackle for Southern Cal, Jackson offers an intriguing blend of length, mobility and a frame capable of adding more muscle to improve his play strength. While there are some appealing components to Jackson and his projection to the next level, he needs a technical overhaul in terms of his footwork to take advantage of his length and quickness. A scheme-specific prospect, Jackson is only a candidate for zone blocking run schemes as he lacks the play strength, bend and tenacity needed to uproot defensive linemen out of their gap. In addition, Jackson has to operate under better control and develop the technique needed to play with far better bend, body control and contact balance. Jackson has enough in the toolbox to develop into a starter but I don’t expect that to happen early in his career and he needs a considerable amount of work.
Early-entry tackle prospect who is raw but gifted and is likely to be coveted by a variety of teams, thanks to his true left tackle traits. Jackson has loads of athletic ability and play talent that is waiting to be developed and harvested. Inconsistent hand placement and footwork could be exploited early on if teams try and rush him into the starting lineup, but issues are correctable. He’s scheme-diverse with potential guard flexibility if he improves his strength. He could become an early starter but may offer a wider split between floor and ceiling than some teams might like.
Jackson is a project for the position not only technically, but physically. Not yet 21 years old, there’s reason to believe he will continue to improve both, but to what degree?
Jackson is very clean in his pass-sets, moving with bounce in his steps and with flexible hips to cut off edge speed. He handles himself very well in space due to his lower half, but he is quick to shoot his hands, reset and stay on time to handle counters. Although he needs to fine-tune the details of the position to strengthen his base mechanics and sustain skills, Jackson has all the necessary traits to develop into a top-32 pick and NFL starter.
On July 9, 2019, Jackson laid his life on the line for his life-long quarterback. As he did during his career with the Trojans, he blocked, but this time, his sister’s life actually depended on it. Autumn is now going through chemotherapy and her hair is starting to grow back after a successful procedure.
Austin Jackson is a OT prospect in the 2020 draft class out of Southern California.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) February 29, 2020
He posted an elite #RAS with okay size, great speed, elite explosiveness, at the OT position.https://t.co/2Bz9ezGSUB pic.twitter.com/9JjfelxFoy
Why he fits
In 2019 Denver’s blocking scheme was a hybrid gap/zone scheme and that looks likely to continue under Pat Shurmur. With Graham Glasgow and Dalton Risner, there is plenty of reason to believe the team will make ample use of pulls from their guards to lead on running plays. This means there is a need for tackles who are athletic enough to reach defenders and help protect the backside while also having the power to downblock and gain ground at the point of attack on the frontside of plays.
If the Broncos’ are set on drafting a left tackle to groom for a year while Garett Bolles plays out the last year of his rookie deal, they could do a lot worse than Jackson. He’ll almost certainly struggle if forced into duty too soon, but has franchise tackle traits and with Mike Munchak on the roster to coach him up the ceiling would be sky high.
Austin Jackson is a left tackle prospect with a high ceiling and low floor. In a vacuum, that makes him a scary prospect in the top 50. Given the positional scarcity of left tackles in the NFL and the relative depth of this upcoming class, however, there is a very real opportunity that a young player who may have come out too soon could fall right in the Broncos’ laps. With the best offensive line coach in the league on the coaching staff, Jackson isn’t as scary as he is exciting. Just 20-years old, the arrow could be pointing straight up.
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