Ever since his hiring as head coach at the University of Southern California, Pete Carroll has turned USC into an assembly line for NFL-ready talent, and defensive end Lawrence Jackson is one of his top 2008 models. After redshirting in 2003, Jackson emerged as a force on the USC defense in 2004 and 2005 before a disappointing junior campaign - just four sacks for the Trojans in '06 after recording 10 the previous year - made many scouts reevaluate his status as a first-round talent.
Jackson came back with a vengeance in 2007, though, anchoring the USC defense along with projected top-10 pick, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, and another projected first-rounder in linebacker Keith Rivers. Jackson paced the club in both sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (17) before being named the team's Co-Defensive Lineman of the Year with Ellis. He also earned All-Pac-10 first team honors for the second time in his collegiate career and was an Associated Press All-American second team selection. Thanks to a strong senior season, he has definitely vaulted himself back into the upper echelon of available talent for the upcoming NFL Draft.
Physically, Jackson has the type of size that makes NFL general manager's salivate as he stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 261 pounds. In addition to his height and solid frame, Jackson has long arms, which allow him to maintain good separation from would-be blockers.
While not particularly fast, Jackson boasts good quickness and has fluidity to his movements that belie his formidable size. Not surprisingly with his combination of quickness and power, the 22-year-old does his best work off the edges when he can work one-on-one with an offensive tackle or tight end, varying his technique to keep opponents off balance. He also does a good job of using his strength and leverage to seal the edges against the run.
As touched on above, Jackson lacks the foot speed of an elite pass rusher off the edge. At the recent NFL Scouting Combine, Jackson ran his 40-yard dashes in the high 4.8-4.9 range, which definitely raises some concerns. That lack of top-end speed could make it nearly impossible for him to consistently blow past NFL tackles, and it could also hinder him when trying to close in on a scrambling quarterback.
Another red flag relates to two separate ankle surgeries he endured during his five-year stint with the Trojans. While one surgery occurred after his redshirt season back in '03, the other took place before the 2007 campaign. This could become a recurring issue at the professional level. Even though he obviously bounced back from the spring surgery to have a monster senior season, it does raise durability concerns.
Jackson also had problems splitting double teams, which was likely a contributing factor to his poor junior season when the team played some 3-4 defense. An inability to produce in that scheme could limit his potential NFL destinations and is also a strike against his versatility. He has also drawn criticism for inconsistent effort and a tendency to frustrate easily.
Expected Draft Placement
While viewed as a first-round draft pick in waiting after the 2005 season, his poor work as a junior exposed some significant holes in his game, and those will almost certainly cause him to drop into the second round. Some of the teams who could have interest in Jackson include the San Francisco 49ers (39th overall), Cincinnati Bengals (46th) and Philadelphia Eagles (49th). All three teams have significant needs at the position, though considering Cincinnati finished dead last in the NFL in sacks last season they could be the most in need. Plus, Jackson's struggles in the 3-4 scheme could make him a poor fit for the 49ers. Still, whether it's one of the three teams mentioned here that select Jackson or not, it seems unlikely he will fall beyond the latter stages of the second round.
About Herija C. Green
A graduate of the prestigious Top Gun school, Green's ego writes checks his body can't cash. When he's not overdrawing his ego's bank account, Green enjoys games of beach volleyball, riding his Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle, and buzzing the tower (whether the pattern is full or not). He resides in the Danger Zone and yes, Ice... Man, he is dangerous. He also writes.
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