As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas from April 28-30, we’re taking a look at some of the players the team could be targeting with their 12 draft picks: Round 1 (29 and 30), Round 2 (50 and 62), Round 3 (94 and 103), Round 4 (121 and 135) and Round 7 (233, 243, 251 and 259).
While edge rusher is arguably the Chiefs’ greatest need entering the draft, there are plenty of other significant holes to solidify at other key positions, too. With that in mind, it is important to know what kinds of options Kansas City could be looking at to help fill out their defensive line room beyond just first-round draft choices or trade-up candidates.
Picking up from where we left off last week when intriguing edge pass rusher Boye Mafe was profiled, this week we turn to yet another exciting potential defensive end addition between picks 30 and 62 — the University of Southern California’s Drake Jackson.
The most important note regarding Jackson’s profile from the start is the conversation around his playing weight. While he weighed 254 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine and likely played the 2021 season in that range too, Jackson packed on significant mass in a short span, weighing 273 pounds at his pro day just a few short weeks ago.
This weight was added for a good reason — it is highly likely that NFL talent evaluators/coaches recommended he do so in order to maximize his draft stock and long-term potential. For any concern about how the extra weight might impact his athleticism, Jackson largely put that to rest with elite-level explosion and agility testing.
Relative to his size and the history of athletic measurements for the defensive end position, Jackson’s 7.09 three-cone drill time and 4.28 short-shuttle time were both remarkable for a 273-pounder. With 34-inch arms, he also possesses tremendous length for a defensive end body type.
A top national recruit in 2019 when he committed to USC, Jackson would go on to start for the Trojans as a true freshman. He began in 2020 and 2021 as well — albeit a significantly shortened season two years ago due to COVID impacts on scheduling.
Jackson turns 21 this week — making him a very young prospect with a high likelihood of growth and development in the years to come.
Some things immediately make Jackson’s college play evaluation tricky. The playing weight component means his 2021 tape is at a potentially 20-pound difference from where he stands currently. He played more of a stand-up outside linebacker position for USC — a much different role than he is likely to execute in the NFL if he maintains the 273-pound build. He can be seen lined up over slot receivers and at middle linebacker at times within his college film while also dropping into coverage frequently from his edge position — things he almost assuredly won’t do much at the pro level.
One example of USC’s funky usage w/ Drake Jackson pressuring from deep in the 2nd level ~ works out this time with that nice shiftiness he has to his game. pic.twitter.com/Exgezypc1I— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) April 11, 2022
In 2019, as a freshman, Jackson played closer to his current weight in the 270-to-275-pound range. Therefore, it requires dual evaluations to better understand who he is as a player within both body types. Productivity within the stat sheet hasn’t been immense either for Jackson, who posted 12.5 sacks in 28 career collegiate games (with 5.5 and 5.0 in 2019 and 2021 respectively).
During more recent contests in 2021 and 2020, play strength was problematic for Jackson. Too often, he was beaten by powerful offensive linemen purely as a matter of power — some of which can be attributed to the playing weight. An unsuccessful NFL future will likely be attributed to strength-related shortcomings if that turns out to be the case for his career.
Snaps where Jackson wins leverage inside but allows the OT to recover due to strength deficiencies show up with some frequency at this 250-ish pound playing weight. pic.twitter.com/ASUfU2hwRz— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) April 11, 2022
This doesn’t mean there weren’t some “wins” too — Jackson flashes some excellent mental identification speed against run-blocking concepts, and he shows the potential for really nice hand usage as well.
99 (lined up vs. the RT) is an athlete out there, but it’s not just that. There’s some mentally and technically sound nuance to his game that flashes. pic.twitter.com/xEeIA2wEGj— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) April 11, 2022
The heavier 2019 version of Jackson was much more Steve Spagnuolo-friendly in terms of the play strength the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator has always preferred from his edge defenders. However, his more recent film displays some truly impressive burst and bend in his lower half combined with active hands. If Jackson can combine this explosiveness and sneaky flexibility with added strength, he has all the makings of a draft steal.
If Drake Jackson (#99) can retain this level of lateral quickness/explosion now that’s he’s in the 270-lb range again… pic.twitter.com/2mvIUJI7u9— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) April 11, 2022
Aligned to right side — didn’t see him get to tee off like this very often, but there’s some legit body lean/ankle flex in Jackson’s big frame. pic.twitter.com/T0Uxzh38hR— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) April 11, 2022
How he fits with the Chiefs
As a player whose stock is clearly ascending late in the pre-draft process, Jackson’s slotting the final weekend of April will be fascinating to monitor. If a team selects him at the end of Round 1, it won’t be terribly surprising — and if he falls all the way near the end of Round 2, it wouldn’t be all that shocking, either. In both scenarios, he could very much so be worthy of that value within the right cultural fit.
Kansas City has the current infrastructure in place to give Jackson a solid opportunity to maximize his potential. With Spagnuolo and experienced defensive line coaching minds such as Joe Cullen and Brendan Daly, there would be no shortage of tutelage available to a young player.
At the ideal weight of 265 to 275 pounds, Jackson could fit in as a long-term starting defensive end with the ability to work against interior offensive linemen, especially when executing twists and other defensive line “games” in passing situations. A more rotational-based role in 2022 makes sense if he can sub in and out of the lineup with the likes of Frank Clark, Melvin Ingram (or another veteran of that mold to be signed at a later date), Joshua Kaindoh, Mike Danna — and hopefully, another defensive end draft choice or future trade target.
There is a strong argument to be made that Jackson’s collegiate usage and fit into USC’s defense was poor — and if he is taken in the draft’s top-40 selections despite limited productivity, some NFL team will be confirming that thought for us. Ultimately, the Chiefs selecting Jackson would indicate they feel he can be utilized in the best possible way within the role they ask of their defensive ends specifically.
Similar to the mold of Joshua Kaindoh — a player who was selected in last year’s draft after underachieving collegiately as a highly-touted national high school prospect — the Chiefs’ primary decision-makers could be formulating a niche prospect pool of young, high-upside players they want to bring in at One Arrowhead Drive moving forward. L’Jarius Sneed also falls into this category to some extent as a player who was taken on day three of the draft and greatly exceeded NFL expectations from the start due to misutilization late in his college career.
let my team take a chance on guys who can do this pic.twitter.com/8bFCaZxBWO— Seth Galina (@pff_seth) April 6, 2022
Jackson could be next in line.