The nation received its first extended glimpse of Appalachian State wideout Dexter M. Jackson last season in the Mountaineers' historic upset of the University of Michigan, where the swift wideout hauled in three passes for 92 yards including two touchdowns.
The first player in school history to be invited to the Senior Bowl (an injury replacement at this year's event), Jackson's pure speed has brought him from relative unknown to draft board climber over the course of a season. He hauled in two passes for a team-high 38 yards in the East-West Shrine Game but entered the stat sheet with just two kick returns in the Senior Bowl. Jackson hauled in 110 receptions over his career with the Mountaineers, ranking seventh in school history. His explosiveness could allow him to fit some NFL systems as a big-play threat, both on offense and special teams.
One of the main cogs for the three-time defending NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) national champion, Jackson hauled in 30 passes for 688 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns in his senior season. The Dunwoody, Ga., native displays a near-textbook example of a slot receiver; scouts have noted his open-field vision and ability to break open short routes with yardage after the catch. He torched the stopwatches at the NFL Scouting Combine by running an unofficial 4.28, recording an official laser time of 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Jackson's game-changing burst makes him a candidate to return kicks after compiling the third-most punt return yards (837) and being tied for the most punt return touchdowns (two) in the school's history. He has been credited with both excellent lateral and vertical speed. During pre-draft workouts, he has backed up his comparison to Washington Redskins receiver Antwaan Randle El in his shifty slot characteristics. He has proven that he can step up in big games while being a vocal leader, who works hard, both on and off the field.
The 5-foot-9 1/2, 182-pounder has small hands to go along with his diminutive frame. Jackson has displayed choppy route-running skills at times, which scouts fear could cancel out his raw speed. He sometimes loses concentration while tracking deep balls and remains a more reliable target in shorter patterns. He primarily lined up as a split end during his senior season, but that position might not fit him as well at the pro level where his size could be an issue when it comes to breaking jams at the line of scrimmage.
One key for the undersized Jackson could be an adjustment to playing more snaps in pro-style offenses with less frequent spread formations. He has not shown much versatility as a wideout; he appears to be more of a one-dimensional speed threat who lacks the blocking skills to be more than a situational player. His lack of strength has made him an average blocker and often lets the ball into his body when making a catch. A more physical defensive back could easily be able to throw Jackson off his route if he doesn't improve his initial burst and tactics at the line.
Expected Draft Placement
Jackson smells like a fourth-round pick for receiver-hungry teams. In the best-case scenario, he is drafted late in the third round. He still on average falls within the top 20 wideouts in a relatively deep class, in terms of the mid-range receivers, and could be a bargain version of University of California-Berkeley wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
The Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears are among the teams that need to add some receiver depth with a defense-spreading speedster. Jackson's raw speed almost assures that he will find a role on special teams wherever he lands, and his ceiling likely caps him at a No. 3 wideout in the mold of Randle El or other speedy slot threats, especially in a West Coast offense.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won several industry leagues in both baseball and football.
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