While he started off strong his rookie year, Drake Jackson fell apart down the stretch. But Pro Football Focus is bullish on him bouncing back.
San Francisco 49ers EDGE Nick Bosa can't do it alone.
In 2022, he effectively had to. Leading the NFL with 19.5 sacks, none of Bosa's other Niners teammates had more than five. Making things worse, two of San Francisco's other top pass-rushers, Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu, departed via free agency the following offseason.
And here is where the 49ers are counting on second-year EDGE Drake Jackson to make a big impact.
Jackson, the Round 2 pick out of USC, started off with a strong enough 2022 campaign in something of a limited pass-rushing role. Notching three sacks over his first six games, there were plenty of signs that the 6-foot-4 and 250-pound edge rusher could play a vital role all year long.
Except Jackson's conditioning, or lack thereof, ultimately led to him being quite literally a non-factor down the stretch and into the playoffs.
As in a healthy-scratch non-factor.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan explained why Jackson didn't see much of the field down the stretch, and now Jackson is going to be under pressure to get into game shape for his second season.
"We had a decent group of rushers," Shanahan told reporters at the end of the season. "And as the year went out and towards the end, it got too long for him, and his body wasn't quite ready for what we needed."
Can Jackson respond to the pressure? The folks over at Pro Football Focus think so.
Pro Football Focus tags 49ers EDGE Drake Jackson as 2023 breakout candidate
The 49ers didn't necessarily need Jackson to make a massive impact in year one, although he showed some prowess with the three sacks and eight passes batted down.
With the physical talents already there, PFF's Zoltán Buday named Jackson as the Niners' player to break out in 2023 in a list describing such players from the NFC.
"Jackson’s rookie season did not go the way he or the 49ers envisioned, as he ended up being a healthy scratch on most gamedays toward the end of the campaign.
However, the departures of Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu will give him an opportunity to prove himself again. Jackson did pick up three sacks in his first six games in the NFL, showing what he can be capable of."
Jackson doesn't have to look up at Ebukam and Omenihu, so Buday does have a point. But San Francisco did onboard two other veteran pass-rushers via free agency, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, while also using a fifth-round draft pick on EDGE Robert Beal Jr.
Any one of them could overtake Jackson on the depth chart, which would be an absolute disaster for his stock value with the team moving forward.
Yet Jackson should be pushed, and it's likely these moves will only help in doing so.
If PFF winds up being right, those moves will have been the right ones.