After the Dallas Cowboys wrapped up the 2016 NFL Draft, I realized something. I saw five of the Cowboys' draft picks in person, thanks to my freelance work as Editor-in-Chief of College Football America. So I figured, why not put that first-hand knowledge to use? With the help of scouting film and my notes from that day I put together this report on Darius Jackson, the Cowboys' sixth-round pick.
Darius Jackson, RB, Eastern Michigan
Vs. Old Dominion, Sept. 5
His totals: 117 yards rushing, two touchdowns; five receptions, 67 yards.
What I saw: Easy speed. That's the first thing I thought when I saw him play last September. Jackson has easy speed, or at least it looks easy when you watch him run. The guy runs a sub 4.4-40 yard dash (4.35 at his pro day to be exact), but some players when they run that fast don't look all that comfortable doing it. Jackson looked completely comfortable with it.
Last year was a breakout year for Jackson, as he registered his only 1,000-yard season and his 117-yard game against ODU was just the beginning. The first play on the tape, at the 15-second mark, was in the first quarter of that game. Jackson is set to the right of the quarterback and the Eagles have overloaded the formation. Plus, the one receiver set left is coming in motion. The Monarchs have just seven in the box as the play begins, and they didn't have much choice as the Eagles have five potential receivers on the field. Jackson gets the handoff immediately and if you stop the tape at 17 seconds you can already see the running lanes developing. ODU has six around the line of scrimmage, but only five in the play, and the man in motion should have blocked the near edge rusher, but stayed in motion. That didn't matter as Jackson blew past that potential tackler. See him trailing Jackson as he bursts through the seam on the right side? No chance he's catching Jackson now.
Now forward to 19 seconds. Jackson is now at the ODU 30 and there is a line of Monarchs — five in all — trying to catch up. Watch the speed here. By the time he gets to the 20 the line has turned into a group of trailers. In four seconds and 15 yards Jackson has turned this play into a breakaway. Nobody touched him as he scored his first touchdown of the game. Watch the end zone shot that follows. It gives you a real sense of how his upfield speed disables any hope the defense has of closing the hole.
Fast forward to 1:02 and you'll see another great example of that open field speed. This was another play in the first quarter and I remember this one well. I was on the ODU side of the field and watched this play develop through my camera lens. Jackson is once again set to the right of the quarterback and the Eagles have the field spread out. This is a screen pass that takes some time to develop, but it's designed for Jackson. Watch the receiver coming in motion. He runs behind the quarterback, but there's no play fake. The quarterback takes a five-step drop, turns around and finds two Monarchs on his tail. Jackson is near the 50 and has already turned around for the pass. When Jackson catches the ball at 1:10 there are two Monarchs right there. But as with the first play they won't catch him. Plus, Jackson has two blockers to his right and another to his left with a one-on-one matchup so he has a pretty good seal to run down the sideline. He takes the edge and his blockers give him a nice wall to work with and he accelerates to the ODU 35. You know who finally gets the angle on Jackson? It's one of the safeties and he finds himself in good position to take Jackson down. He even has company. But Jackson's speed eliminates their good position. He splits both of them and keeps going, eventually brought down at the 13-yard line. Check out the end zone view that follows and you can see how Jackson splits the first set of tacklers. Plus, at 1:29, you can see me. I'm the guy in the blue shirt and khaki shorts, standing next to the photographer in the yellow shirt, at the 15.
Our last play was the following play on that drive, where Jackson scored his second touchdown. This is a simple run play. There are six linemen up front. Jackson is to the left of the quarterback. But the Monarchs don't have that many in the box. Big mistake. Jackson takes the handoff and heads up the middle. By this point the EMU offensive line has created a huge gap to Jackson's left and he easily changes direction toward the goal line. Fast-forward to 1:35. Here's another example of how Jackson's speed changes things. He splits a pair of tacklers, both of which have a chance to bring him down. But neither can close the gap quickly enough. The safety manages to get there to try and make a tackle, but he doesn't have the position to do it. Jackson bounces off of him and then takes on a tackler head on, and that tackler loses. So Jackson has some power behind this speed, too.
His speed can be a game changer, frankly. Now, the linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties who missed these tackles on this day are going to be much quicker and much more instinctual in the NFL. That will require some adjustment on Jackson's part. The quarters will be tighter. Getting to the open field, as he did on these plays, will be much tougher. Tacklers aren't just going to bump off of him. But as with Kavon Frazier, who I profiled earlier this week, this speed can help Jackson make the Cowboys on special teams. He doesn't have the game film that Frazier has on special teams, but special-teams coach Rich Bisaccia can turn that speed into something, perhaps as a gunner.
Jackson himself admitted to wondering what his role in Dallas might be, saying during rookie minicamp, “After Zeke got taken, I didn’t think they were looking too much at running backs. But I got a call from them during the draft. … I was like, ‘Let’s do it.’ I was happy. I was really excited. I was happy to come here and compete.”
Jackson's speed is his value to the Cowboys right now. How he develops will determine how long he remains in Dallas.
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