The 49ers didn’t just take EDGE Drake Jackson in the NFL Draft to replace the oft-injured Dee Ford. No, Jackson will be much more than that.
On the surface, the San Francisco 49ers’ top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, former USC EDGE Drake Jackson, is the presumed heir apparent to the Niners’ No. 2 pass-rushing threat opposite Nick Bosa, one Dee Ford, who appeared in a mere six games last season, one in 2020 and was on the field just a shade over 34 percent of defensive snaps in 2019, his first year with San Francisco after being acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs via trade.
The 49ers are poised to move on from Ford after June 1, when his hefty dead money on his contract will offset a bit with this particular designation.
Yet Jackson, who was grabbed at No. 61 overall and seen as a steal for having fallen that far, shouldn’t just be tabbed as purely a replacement for Ford.
No, Jackson should be poised as an every-down defender upon his maturation.
49ers used Dee Ford solely as a pass-rushing specialist
Given today’s pass-happy NFL, it makes sense why players who can get to the quarterback on passing downs are such a high-profile commodity.
It also explains why the Niners inked Ford to a sizable five-year, $85 million contract shortly after they traded for him, even though he was never particularly a high-profile run defender and only once crested more than 80 percent of defensive snaps with the Chiefs (87 percent in 2018).
Injuries had a lot to do with why Ford didn’t see too much of the field with San Francisco, but the sheer amount of defensive snaps he saw from 2019 through 2021 is alarming:
- 2019: 226
- 2020: 46
- 2021: 106
Ford could be productive during those brief attempts, securing 9.5 regular-season sacks during that three-year window.
However, San Francisco should rightfully seek much more out of Jackson than it got from Ford.
Why Drake Jackson will be more important to 49ers than Dee Ford
Again, we’re talking about NFL Draft prospects here, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how effective Jackson will be at the pro level.
On the upside, the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder has the physical makeup and good-quality injury history to suggest he won’t be dogged by the same kind of conditions that ultimately derailed Ford’s career.
Although Jackson only managed 12.5 sacks over three years at USC, one does have to take into account the inconsistency of the Trojans’ program during that time. And he also showcased the physical abilities necessary to thrive in a pass-rushing role.
But what’ll be the biggest difference is whether or not Jackson stays as a situational pass-rusher or can emerge as a run-stopping force, someone capable of setting the edge on a regular basis.
For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus gave Jackson a respectable 70.4 run-defense grade, while his pass-rushing grade was at a more notable 88.3.
The 49ers fielded Ford almost exclusively as a pass-rusher, not an every-down player.
In terms of Jackson, they should look to ensure he winds up being a three-down player instead.