DQwell Jackson has heard it so many times that he can recite the knocks on his game, the doubters who say hes too slow and too small to duplicate his college feats in the NFL.
The hard-hitting University of Maryland middle linebacker and ACC Defensive Player of the Year laughs off the criticism and focuses on intangibles that cant be measured with a stop watch, tape measure or a scale: heart, intelligence and instincts.
Im not the 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker, so I have to focus on the details that most players take for granted, said Jackson, who has relatively modest size at 6-foot, 230 pounds and posted average 40-yard dash times of 4.80 and 4.72 seconds at the scouting combine. When I step on the field, I have to be prepared to know what plays come out of what formations. That separates you a little bit. I feel like a team that wants an inside linebacker, I should be the first one they look at.
Traditionally, inside linebackers are undervalued by the NFL and the flashy pass rushers go off the draft board first. Jackson is regarded by some analysts as the top inside linebacker with others rating him just behind Iowa linebacker Abdul Hodge.
Jackson is projected as a second-round pick, and ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper has linked him the Tennessee Titans with the 39th overall selection.
Several smaller linebackers have excelled in the middle before Jackson, including Sam Mills and Mike Singletary.
I believe Im strong enough, Jackson said. I wouldnt be the first one who is 6-foot, 230 pounds to play in the NFL. If other guys have done it, I cant see why I cant.
Its hard to argue with Jacksons impressive production for the Terrapins. A second-team All-American and a first-team all-conference selection, Jackson led the NCAA in tackles last season with 137 and recorded four sacks.
In his final college game against North Carolina State, he registered 13 tackles, two sacks and 3 ½ tackles for losses to finish his career with 447 overall tackles.
Consistency is one of Jackson's hallmarks. As a junior, he recorded 123 tackles and four sacks. As a sophomore, he posted 136 stops.
I think hes a down-the-line prospect, Baltimore Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. You like his motor, you like his production. He shows up on tape and plays hard. I think hes an intriguing guy who makes a lot of plays.
Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland and is a longtime contributor to Ravens Insider
Patriots Insider Take: Jackson is a bit undersized to be a solid fit in New England as a full-time LB, but then again so is Don Davis (6-1, 235) and Larry Izzo (5-10,230). Special teams would be a good place for Jackson to start as he works on building strength and learning the system. Davis who played at linebacker and safety due to injuries, will turn 34 this year, while Izzo will be 32. New England needs another young, fast, hard hitting playmaker who can help shore up the special teams unit, and be a part time contributor in special situations as Matt Chatham and Chad Brown both did. While it's possible Jackson could move into a starting role earlier, that has not been the tradition in New England, where head coach Bill Belichick prefers to develop players over time. New England has already looked at other undersized ILBs, so it's not surprising Jackson is on their board.