Deon Jackson could've scrolled for seemingly hours and not got through all the notifications on his phone when he got back to his locker at Lucas Oil Stadium after the Colts' 34-27 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. If he added all the mentions he got on Instagram to his story, all the little dots might've looked like Morse code.
"A lot of people I know started me in fantasy," he smiled.
A lot of people the Colts running back knew, then, were probably pretty happy they had him in their fantasy football lineup for Week 6.
Jackson, the 2021 undrafted rookie free agent from Duke, had 12 carries for 42 yards with a touchdown and caught 10 passes for 76 yards in his first career start with running backs Jonathan Taylor (ankle) and Nyheim Hines (concussion) out on Sunday.
"Deon was great," head coach Frank Reich said. "I mean, what has been really – not a surprise to us, but been great with Nyheim out – Deon's been great in the passing game. He catches every ball. Knows where to be on the checkdowns. It's not always big yards, but sometimes those little plays for three yards, four yards, now it's third-and-six rather than third-and-10. And he's been good in protection."
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"He played extremely tough," Ryan said. "He was huge for us catching the ball out of the backfield."
Jackson said receiving comes naturally to him, since he played wide receiver at Pace Academy in Atlanta until his senior year (at the end of which Matt Ryan spoke at his graduation). But that shouldn't diminish what he did as a runner, which was punctuated by a three-yard touchdown on which he truck-sticked Jaguars safety Andre Cisco on his way to the end zone.
"Running over somebody on the goal line, that's something all running backs love, that's something people always dream about doing," Jackson said. "For me to be able to do that at this level, it's crazy — and in my first start, it's crazy."
Taylor and Hines have, for the last year, drilled into Jackson's mindset that he's two plays away from taking over as the Colts' top running back. Jackson said that helped him stay locked in to the offensive gameplan every week, which in turn has helped him make a smooth transition to being the team's starter while Taylor and Hines are sidelined.
The Colts entered the 2022 season seeing Taylor and Hines as two of their top three playmakers (along with wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., who had 13 catches for 134 yards on Sunday). But without those guys, their offense still put up 34 points – the most they've had since Week 11 of the 2021 season. And Jackson's contributions were key to it.
For Jackson, hearing his name announced coming out of the tunnel at Lucas Oil Stadium felt like a long time coming for a guy who's had to navigate a difficult path from being an undrafted free agent to this point – of helping your fantasy team, sure, but more importantly the team that employs him.
"Coming into this day, I had a lot of emotions," Jackson said. "My first start — running out of the tunnel almost put me to tears, I'm not gonna lie."