There is a reason Big Ten teams turn to junior college transfers during the recruiting process. They are in need of immediate help at their position and don’t have players on campus that are ready to play with similar skill sets. The Gophers were in need of a big body in the middle of their defensive line and they went out and got their guy. Merrick Jackson, a 320-pound defensive tackle out of Iowa Western Community College. Jackson originally hails from East St. Louis (IL) and attended Althoff Catholic, signing with the University of Illinois in 2013. Jackson did not qualify to enroll at Illinois and instead headed off to IWCC for three football seasons (redshirt in 2013).
Jackson was a success during his days in Council Bluffs and was named NJCAA First Team All-American after his sophomore season, in which he finished with 7.5 sacks, 19 tackles-for-loss and 70 tackles. As a freshman for the Reivers, Jackson was warming up with five sacks, 10.5 tackles-for-loss and 52 tackles, he even threw in a fumble recovery and an interception.
Despite never playing a down for the Gophers, it is clear why Jackson’s play in 2016 will be of mass importance to Minnesota’s success. The Gophers needed some beef in the middle of their defensive front to help slow down the run. In 2015 the Gophers finished tenth in rush defense during conference games in stopping the run, giving up an average of 181.8 yards per game. The two teams that represented the Big Ten in the conference’s title game finished third (MSU 117.9) and fourth (Iowa 123.0) in rush defense, so Minnesota’s motivation to improve their run defense is obvious.
Jackson comes to Minnesota with the size and potential to be a force. While the Gophers would accept numbers similar to what Jackson put up last year at Iowa Western, they would be just fine with Jackson plugging up the middle and taking up blockers so the Gophers talented linebackers can come in and clean up.
If the Gophers play primarily in a 4-3 I would expect Jackson and fellow Gopher junior defensive tackle Steven Richardson to team up to create headaches for opposing offensive lines. Jackson could very well be Richardson’s best friend after the 2016 season, as Jackson could use his size to help free up the quicker, more explosive Richardson to get in the backfield to make plays and fill up the stat line.
Top 15 MIG Countdown
15. Isaiah Gentry
14. Cody Poock
13. Julian Huff
12. Drew Wolitarsky
11. Rodney Smith
10. Merrick Jackson