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INDIANAPOLIS — "You're going head-to-head every play, so you've got to be nasty. You've got to have a little something off in you. It's definitely vital to being an interior offensive lineman."
Those were the words of former Ohio State interior offensive lineman Jonah Jackson last month at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine when asked how important it is for an offensive linemen to play physically and "nasty."
Having that extra edge to your game, or having something "a little off in you," as Jackson put it, could be considered a sign of advanced abilities in an offensive lineman.
Not only have you grasped the nuances of the game that make offensive line play possible, but you've taken it to an extracurricular level where you're trying to punish the man across from you.
Jackson spent his five-year college career in the Big Ten conference, where offensive line play is among the best — and nastiest — in the country.
He first signed on with Rutgers, where he redshirted as a true freshman in 2015 before seeing the field sparingly on the field goal protection unit and occasionally filling in at right guard in 2016. Jackson got more traction in 2017, starting in five of the six games in which he appeared, including three at center and two at right guard. He was then a full-time starter for Rutgers in 2018, starting all 11 games at right guard and earning Honorable Mention All-Big Ten.
Jackson then transferred to Ohio State as a graduate student in 2019 and earned the starting left guard spot, where he started all 14 games. He would go on to be named Second-Team All-Big Ten and a Third-Team All-American.
In all, he started 30-of-43 games in college — 14 at left guard, 13 at right guard and three at center.
"Yeah, everybody's talked about just being versatile, being able to play center, being able to play guard. That adds a plus to your draft so definitely told them I was able to play both positions and I'm ready to go wherever they need me," Jackson said about his meetings this offseason with NFL teams. "I'm comfortable in all of them. During my offseason training I've been working all three positions. I can go wherever right away and start."
The fact that Jackson has so much experience in two different systems could very well make him more prepared for the jump to the NFL.
"I've been through five offensive coordinators so I can learn different things," Jackson said. "We've been pro style, spread, we've been through it all. It shouldn't be too much of a transition beside now we're getting paid to do the thing you love."
On the field, the 6-3, 306-pounder plays football like it is the game he truly loves, as he mentioned.
Often when defenders approach him with a little steam, their momentum dies and they get absorbed into his frame.
Jackson's nastiness is obvious, as he displays his strength as a people-mover and is always looking to pancake defenders or drive them into the ground.
Jackson estimated he had 84 to 85 total knockdowns last season alone at Ohio State.
He has very strong hands (and well above average at 10-1/2") and a strong upper body to go with it. Jackson locks onto defenders and keeps his arms extended to keep the defender at bay.
While he didn't test exceptionally well at the Combine, he is capable of moving outside the tackle box. Jackson covers ground laterally very well, and he has a good kickslide, a wide base and covers enough ground side-to-side to be able to mirror defenders. He can handle interior defenders' moves, including spin moves, and once locked up, he often neutralizes the defender's ability to get free.
"We're the best athletes on the field," Jackson said about offensive linemen. "Three hundred and ten pounds being able to move guys, run with guys who are linebackers, DBs, and you've got to be able to bend, got to be able to move. It's definitely a position where you need athleticism."
Athletic gifts aside, there's something about Big Ten offensive linemen, and perhaps Ohio State offensive linemen in general, that make them so draftable by the NFL, as there have been six Buckeyes O-linemen drafted in the last four years.
"(I) was able to show off our athleticism and ability to get to the second level and sustain blocks and not just miss guys and guys juke you out," Jackson said specifically about how playing offensive line at Ohio State helped him. "Sometimes that happens to linemen but being able to show them our athleticism was definitely a big plus."
After four years at Rutgers and another with a perennial powerhouse in Ohio State, what does Jackson see as the strengths of his game as he prepares for one of the biggest days of his life to date?
"I'd say on the field being able to sustain blocks, being nasty, being tough," Jackson said. "And then off the field just being a leader, giving guidance to young guys, older guys, and just helping out every way I can."
At Rutgers, that leadership manifested in team captain status in 2018, proving he was someone his teammates could look at as an example.
The NFL seems to be keen on Jackson, how he plays, and his leadership abilities as well.
"Just my ability to sustain blocks, being a finisher, being tough, being nasty, just being a leader," Jackson said about the positive feedback he's been getting from NFL teams. "Helping guys out on and off the field and changing the culture."
While Jackson is certainly an enticing prospect, and it's why he's likely to be gone by the end of the second day of the draft, there are of course some areas of opportunity for him to grow.
For instance, while he moves very well within the box and on outside runs, you're probably not yet having him as the primary lead blocker downfield on a screen pass due to his lack of long speed. He also doesn't always place his blocks accurately out in the open field on a consistent basis.
"There's always things you can work on," Jackson said. "You're never a finished product, but just staying lower consistently and keeping my hands inside more consistently in both pass and run game."
FIT WITH THE COLTS
"Always," Colts general manager Chris Ballard told reporters at the Combine about the offensive line being an area of need. "I mean, y'all obsess about wideouts. I obsess about O-line and D-line."
While the man who makes the final decisions on draft day is obsessing over linemen, he may be considering acquiring a prospect in Jackson who draws inspiration from current Colts All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson.
"I'd say some athleticism I like to compare myself to Jason Kelce. He's a little shorter guy like myself, not the biggest of the bunch but once he gets to that second level and gets out in space there's nobody better than him. Then my finishing ability and just overall nastiness I like to compare myself to Big Q, Quenton Nelson, I like him a lot so I like to try and mold my game after him a little bit," Jackson said about who he tries to emulate on the field.
"I like his ability to finish and just being a guy that's just nasty 24/7 and relentless in his effort. You see the guy 20 yards downfield picking up the running back," Jackson continued about Nelson. "Things like that you like to rub off on you and become a guy like him who's All-Pro and regarded as one of the best interior linemen in the NFL."
As a former team captain, Academic All-Big Ten member in 2018 and an Ohio State Buckeye, Jackson certainly checks some boxes in patterns we've seen on the Colts' final draft haul in recent years. However, they most certainly have to address their depth this offseason, and perhaps even make upgrades if they see fit.
As NFL free agency is set to begin next week, the Colts have Josh Andrews, Le'Raven Clark and Joe Haeg all set to hit the open market, and all are key players who the Colts rely on to fill interior offensive line spots when starters go down.
Whether it's his mindset as a lineman, his ability to clear paths on the move, or the fact that the Colts need players who offer his style of services, the potential match of Jackson and the Colts just makes sense.
OTHER 2020 NFL DRAFT PROSPECT PROFILES
- K.J. Hill | Wide Receiver | Ohio State
- Jerry Jeudy | Wide Receiver | Alabama
- Derrick Brown | Defensive Tackle | Auburn
- K'Lavon Chaisson | Edge Defender | LSU
- CeeDee Lamb | Wide Receiver | Oklahoma
- Tristan Wirfs | Offensive Tackle | Iowa
- Neville Gallimore | Defensive Tackle | Oklahoma
- Jeff Gladney | Cornerback | TCU
- Brandon Aiyuk | Wide Receiver | Arizona State