Next stop...NFL

Tennessee leads the way with the most SEC defensive linemen drafted this decade, but LSU is not far off and will climb even higher this weekend when the 2009 NFL Draft gets underway. Tyson Jackson is the Tigers' top draft prospect and he will likely be the third LSU defensive linemen to get selected in the first round over the last 10 years.

If the recruiting services would have nailed it with Tyson Jackson then the last place he would be come Saturday is sitting in a hotel room off Canal Street in the Big Easy.


Jackson was not ranked amongst the country’s top prospects when he came out of West St. John High School in 2004. Some even had him pegged as a future offensive tackle at the next level.


The native of South Louisiana flew under the radar of most colleges, but it had nothing to do with his production on the field. Jackson ended his memorable career for the Rams by earning Class 2A Defensive Player of the Year after piling up 84 tackles, 16 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries.


Surely that kind of production would attract the interest of college coaches from a guy who started at defensive and offensive tackle, and was listed at 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds.


West St. John, however, is located in the small town of Edgard and college recruiters weren’t all too familiar with the area.


Jackson, who reported three offers when he signed with LSU, never gave coaches much of a chance to get in on him as he committed to the Tigers in April of his junior year. Still, Colorado and Oklahoma State tried to get in on him, as well as Miami when the Hurricanes came calling after his senior season was completed. But even an official visit to South Beach two weeks before signing day couldn’t sway Jackson from the place he had always dreamed of playing at.


“There was never really any doubt on where I was going,” Jackson said. “You get recruited by coaches and you listen to them because you’ve never really been anywhere else, but I knew in my mind that I was going to be a Tiger.”


Jackson redshirted his true freshman season and played in 13 games the following year. His sophomore season was when he emerged as one of the top defensive ends in the Southeastern Conference after he led the Tigers and finished fifth in the league with 8.5 sacks.


His breakout performance in 2006 prompted a wealth of speculation on Jackson’s future as a possible early entry into the 2007 NFL Draft following his junior season. However, even though the Tigers claimed the BCS National Championship and Jackson could have gone out on top he decided to return for his senior season.


“It wasn’t time yet,” he said. “I still had things I could improve on and I felt that I needed to get better.”


Jackson had some improvement to make in the eyes of NFL scouts and much had to with his drop off in production. After logging 37 tackles with 10 for loss and the 8.5 sacks the year before, Jackson totaled 36 tackles with 4.5 for loss and only 3.5 sacks as a junior. The five fewer sacks was an attention grabber, but only to those who didn’t look deeper into the numbers which revealed that his 15 quarterback hurries were four more than he accumulated the previous two years combined.


Jackson returned for his senior season and although he came up short in surpassing the sack total from his sophomore season, he played well in coming up with 36 tackles including 10.5 for loss, 4.5 sacks and seven hurries.


Despite never topping the numbers from his the 2006 campaign, NFL personnel were still enamored with Jackson. He was measured at 6-foot-4 and weighed 296 pounds at LSU’s Pro Day, and he ran respectable times in the 40-yard dash with a 5.0 at the combine and a 4.91 at pro day.


Jackson didn’t blow the scouts away with his performance at the combine in the other events – vertical jump (28-5), broad jump (8-6), 3-Cone (7.64) and 20-yard shuttle – either, but his stock has still soared the last two months.


“Right now, a lot of teams are saying they went back to the tape and they’re not basing everything off the combine anymore,” he said. “Pro day is over with and a lot of scouts and NFL coaches are going back to watch tape and see what guys did on film. At the end of the day, that’s going to be the proven factor for who gets drafted and what positions.”

Tyson Jackson will soon get a call that he's been waiting on for a long time

Jackson said that he has had the most contact with Philadelphia, San Diego, Washington, Detroit, Denver and the New York Giants. He had personal workouts for several teams including Atlanta, Detroit, San Diego, Kansas City, St. Louis, Cleveland and Denver.


Jackson said that he didn’t really have a feel for which teams like him the most, but there has been an enormous amount of chatter in the media the last few weeks centered around the Denver Broncos.


Denver has a new head coach in Josh McDaniels and a new defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan, who will run a 3-4 base alignment on defense. That would put Jackson playing more inside next to a nose guard rather than coming off the edge, which would be an adjustment, but not one Jackson is concerned with.


“The 3-4 defense is not similar to what we played in college, but a lot of times certain technique we played here at LSU is real similar to that 3-4 style of defense,” he said. “It’s a basic 5-technique and I played that my four years at LSU, so it won’t be a big adjustment at all taking it to the next level.”


Denver holds the No. 12 overall pick and if the Broncos select Jackson he would be the third Tiger defensive lineman chosen in the first round over the last 10 years joining Marcus Spears (Dallas) and Glenn Dorsey (Kansas City). Tennessee leads the SEC with 12 defensive linemen drafted this decade, but Jackson will give the Tigers 11 which would tie them with Georgia and Florida.


Jackson doesn’t know if he will go to Denver and he thinks that all of the talk regarding the Broncos may be a bit premature.


“I worked out with Denver once this spring, and I visited Denver a few weeks ago and got some good vibes from the coaches,” he said. “But I also got a lot of good vibes from all the teams I visited so it’s a big unknown right now.”


One of the unknowns is whether Jackson will even be around when Denver picks because some draft pundits have him going higher to Cleveland and even Kansas City where he would be reunited with his former teammate – Dorsey.


There are a lot of uncertainties leading up to the point where NFL general managers have to make that multi-million dollar decision, but one thing seems certain and that is Jackson will hear his name called in the first round.


Not too bad for someone who was ranked the 120th best offensive lineman coming out of high school and only a two-star prospect.


“It’s just a mind-blowing experience knowing that I came from a little small 2-A school to LSU where I went against some of the best guys in the country,” he said. “There were a lot of 5-star defensive ends here so I really had to work hard to outwork those guys. At least I can always look back on my career and know that all of that hard work paid off. I’ll just always rely on that the rest of the time I play football.”


All of that hard work has paid off and it will earn Jackson a large chunk of change that will set him up for the rest of his life.


Jackson said that he will buy his mother something but hasn’t figured out what that will be. When pressed for what he’ll buy for himself he smiled and then replied, “Probably a big screen TV.”


Make it a large big screen TV and throw in some extras as well because there is no denying that Jackson has come a long way, and he’s certainly earned everything that is coming his way.


SEC Defensive Linemen Drafted Since 2000 (1st Round Picks)

Tennessee: 12 (4)

Georgia: 11 (4)

Florida: 11 (3)

LSU: 10 (2)

Alabama: 8 (0)

Mississippi State: 7 (0)

Auburn: 6 (0)

Arkansas: 5 (1)

South Carolina: 4 (0)

Kentucky: 3 (1)

Ole Miss: 2 (0)

Vanderbilt: 1 (0)

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