Gabe Jackson has been an institution in Starkville at the left guard spot for Mississippi State since he took over as a redshirt freshman and seems to have made substantial improvements each year. There is a little bit of a tradition of four year starters at Mississippi State developing and doing quite well in the draft process with Johnthan Banks doing the same thing last year as part of the same recruiting class, but he did not redshirt. Jackson is one of the most talented in the conference even with the amount of recognition and awards that end up in Tuscaloosa. Jackson stands out because of his size as much as his play; he possesses prototypical size and strength for the position, especially with the style of play common to the SEC and the consistent talent at the defensive tackle position.
Jackson is an earth moving guard who might end up moving to right side in the NFL, but he has made strides to make that decision far more difficult and could end up staying at left guard with a few teams. If he can prove that he could be a viable left guard in the NFL, his stock will move up quite a bit in the draft process because he could be a huge weapon on the offensive line. For teams that believe Jackson can play left guard, he is a first round pick while teams that have him as a right guard probably look at him as a second day prospect.
Vitals & Build
Jackson is listed at 6’4” 340lbs and he is simply an enormous human being. He has an impressive build at the offensive guard position with incredible strength and power at his disposal. He was listed at 320lbs last year and it appeared like it could be on the lighter side for Jackson while this sounds closer to accurate for both this year and last, but he appears to carry the weight pretty well, though that can be deceiving. Hopefully when he gets to the combine, he looks more like D.J. Fluker and less like Terrance Cody in shorts. Jackson moves well going forward and has improved his lateral quickness and his ability to move his feet, so he does not have to rely just on his impressive ballast and long arms. Those just become added tools in his arsenal.
It would be interesting to see if losing weight would help him be more nimble or if the drop in weight would hurt his ability to hold up at the point of attack, but with his functional strength and ability to get push, that seems unlikely, so he might be better served losing a few and getting down to 320-330lbs and just trying to improve the composition of his body.
Jackson has made some strides in his athleticism and while his weight is listed higher, it is probably not much different than he was last year, but he has gotten quicker and looked to have more body control this year. He has not only made strides in his ability to move to blocks in traps and pulling, but has also gotten better with his balance and ability to function at the second level. Some of this is simply due to experience but Jackson just looks more comfortable operating in space and he is not lunging at people anymore, but just overwhelming them with his size and strength.
Jackson is a good pass blocker for the college game but his run blocking is what makes him stand out as a player and can get the draft community excited. The Bulldogs scheme does not appear to ask him to really maul opponents and creates pancakes as a drive blocker, preferring him to be base block but he is an earth mover. Nevertheless, Jackson is getting more pancake blocks and showing off his strength more this year. The key is that he is not overextending to do it, but staying under control and simply overpowering opponents, especially when he is on the move. He is able to consistently create a bubble as a run blocker and move opponents off their spot as well as dig opponents out when needed. In goal line and short yardage situations, he is difficult to stop and seems to always create space for the runner to operate even when the opponent has no doubt where the play is going.
He is able to pull and hit a moving target, though it would be nice to see him crumple opponents, especially when he is blocking on trap plays. Jackson is not a guy who has trouble getting to his spot and making the block when it comes to tripping over trash. He has gotten far more nimble and while he has done a good job avoiding trash for a while, he has gotten more fluid athletically.
There are times when the Bulldog offense has him cut block, which is peculiar to watch when a guy of Jackson’s size goes down at the opponents’ legs rather than just going after them physically and makes it impossible for him to make multiple blocks, which seems counter intuitive with a player like Jackson. This appears to be happening less in his senior season than it was in his junior season but it still comes up at times. Jackson did not seem to have a ton of opportunities to get to the second level last year, but he is doing it far more this season and looking good in the process. The times he is able to get to the second level, it is simply unfair as he overwhelms linebackers and defensive backs with his size and strength. Some might suggest he is somewhat of a gentle giant but some of that seems related to the scheme and Jackson seems to be able to demonstrate a tremendous amount of power without looking like it takes a lot of effort.
Jackson is an extremely wide bodied blocker in the passing game and if he can get his hands on the opponent, it is usually a done deal. He has those long arms so combined with how much space he takes up in the hole, he is difficult to get around. He has improved his footwork in pass protection and opponents who could take advantage of him with some quickness are finding themselves out of luck this season as he is such a wide body with long arms who can now slide in protection effectively.
Jackson has long arms and power and has rarely been moved backward due to an opposing bull rush. He is extremely stout in pass protection, so most opponents do not even look at power as an option, but he holds up well against the ones that did. It takes a ton of power to move Jackson and no one has been up to the task this season. The last person who showed that ability was Daniel McCullers, the titan of a defensive lineman for Tennessee last season.
Usually, Jackson is able read and adjust to blitz packages and multiple attackers coming into his area with the ability to move off of one and pick up another if deemed a larger threat; he keeps his head on a swivel well to see what is coming. Occasionally, he would get beat on those types of combo blitz packages but not often, but that has really been reduced as well. Usually, the types of blitzes and pass rushing packages that have had an impact find a way to avoid Jackson altogether.
Whereas last season Jackson could get pulled one way by a speedy threat and use quickness to get back inside and leave him overextended, he has improved and is more comfortable in his ability to mirror against opponents this season. This is something that will need to continue to be a focus so that he can continue to be effective in the NFL.
Mississippi State is certainly not the only one but it is frustrating that teams have a guy like Jackson try to cut block pass rushers and dive at their legs. It works to keep them off balance and gives something to think about, but the NFL does not do it and some will look at the fact that he is on the ground so much as a negative. More importantly does need to do it to be an effective pass blocker. He is more than capable to do the job in pass pro straight up, but some coaches preach it in high school and college.
Despite the size of his legs, Jackson is a decent bender at the knee. He is able to take advantage of the power in his upper body because he is able to get opponents with a rising blow and good pad level.
Whether he is pass or run blocking, he is able to keep opponents out of his body with his arms extended after throwing a solid punch. Whereas last year, he would occasionally have defenders fall off of his blocks and get away from him, this season Jackson has become a lockdown blocker. Once he gets his hands on an opponent, the defender is done. Jackson has really worked to improve in this area of the game and he is dominant when he gets his hands on the opponent.
This seems to be an area where Jackson put a significant amount of focus coming into his senior year. He has really improved and gotten better at getting to the second level and being able to land blocks as well as being able to pull. There are still some small questions on his ability to pull quickly enough but he is doing it with better balance and under far better control to make blocks and hit moving targets.
Jackson has shown the ability to get out in front of running plays, but he really excels in trap blocking and getting out to protect the edge on the right side. He can also reach block and move his feet and block while moving.
In pass blocking, Jackson will occasionally get caught by quickness but has the ability to recover and re-engage to finish the block. He shows solid lateral agility and can really shut down the opponent trying to come into his lane.
Jackson is ideally suited to play in a power scheme and there will probably be a few of those that look at Jackson and think he can play the left guard spot. Should he fail there, he makes a tremendous right guard. He simply is an overpowering force that can power open holes in the running game and just help a team bulldoze their way down the field. Teams like Cleveland, San Francisco and Pittsburgh are examples of systems that would be well suited for Jackson.
There may be a few teams that look at him at right guard and just do not care that he is not the ideal for their system and just look at him as too big and strong to fail. They would probably like him to drop a little weight and get closer to 320lbs to help with his stamina and his athleticism, but he could still be a huge asset in their offense.
Regardless of the system, Jackson is a plug and play prospect. He has a tremendous understanding of the game, is physically ready to play and the once he learns the offense, he is ready to start contributing immediately.
More and more, Jackson’s game is similar to that of Carl Nicks of the New Orleans Saints and formerly of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nicks came out at virtually the same size but had many of the questions coming out that Jackson has already answered. As a result, Nicks was a fifth round pick but worked himself into one of the better players at his position and is simply an enormous player. Both of these players fall into the ‘planet theory’ as there are only so many people on the planet at this size.
Jackson has been a great player for Mississippi State but he just seems to have gotten better and better with each year. Jackson could have left last year and likely been a top 100 pick in a talented group. Now, with another year under his belt in which he appears to have worked extremely hard to improve areas of weaknesses and answer potential questions from teams, Jackson should put on an impressive display at the Senior Bowl should he opt to attend and has a shot to be the first guard selected in the NFL Draft. For teams that view Jackson as a left guard, he has to be looked at in the first round while teams that look at him as a right guard only will likely have a second day grade on Jackson, but regardless of when he is picked, he should be ready to contribute immediately and start from day one.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com