Career Recap: At a program like USC, it can be hard to see the field instantly, but Jackson was able to do that during 2019, his freshman season. He was one of the top freshman defenders in the nation and totaled 46 tackles, 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble and three passes defended. In USC's six-game 2020 season, Jackson recorded 20 tackles, two sacks and an interception.
2021 Season Outlook: Jackson has a manageable schedule as a junior, including some easy opponents, but he also has a number of offensive tackles who were on NFL teams' preseason watch list. His best test could come against Washington State in Week 3, as he will see Cougars offensive tackle Abraham Lucas, one of the top tackles in the nation and an early-round prospect. Three games later, Utah's Braxton Jones, another quality tackle, will be a challenge. Notre Dame, meanwhile, has consistently fielded a good offensive line, and that front could test Jackson with some young talent. Kellen Riesch of Arizona State could be a quality competitor in November.
Skill-Set Summary: Jackson has a NFL starting skill set with size, quickness and athleticism. He shows quality instincts and vision on the edge to adjust to the offense, and he still possesses the upside to get better. Building on his 2019 and 2020 season could make Jackson an intriguing player for the next level.
As a pass rusher, Jackson has talent and potential to improve as a junior and senior. He has good size to take on tackles and an impressive burst to close on the quarterback. Jackson's quickness lets him do a nice job of darting to the inside, and he shows a quality rip move to work the inside shoulder of offensive tackles. Jackson is not a pure speed demon off the edge, and he needs to improve his get-off for the pros. Off the ball, Jackson is not the first defender to get upfield, so improving his get-off will help him to be a more effective rusher in the NFL. Along with improving his first-step off the ball, Jackson should continue to refine his pass-rushing moves.
Jackson needs improve in the ground game as an upperclassman. There have been times when he looked like he was doing the minimum and seemed disinterested. He has flashed the ability to be a quality run stuffer, but has to get better at stacking his block, shedding the offensive lineman, and flowing to the ball. Just being more aggressive and less passive would make a difference with his run defense. Not being a speed demon pass rusher means Jackson will need to be a balanced defender for the next level.
Jackson has some versatility on the edge and has shown comfort playing in space. USC has used him as a defensive end lined up with his hand on the turf and as a standup outside linebacker dropping in coverage. In space, Jackson moves pretty well for a big edge defender, and he displays quality vision to disrupt passing lanes. Jackson also shows nice recognition to adjust to covering check downs in the flat rather than allowing the quarterback to have an open outlet receiver. As a pro, Jackson will be used more as a rusher, but he has versatility to play the edge in a 3-4 or 4-3.
2022 NFL Draft Expectations: Entering the 2021 season, Jackson has the potential to emerge as an early-rounder for the 2022 or 2023 NFL Draft.