Experience, intelligence, durability, and versatility: These are all traits that make a successful offensive line prospect, and things that all 32 NFL teams are looking for in this year’s draft.
They’ll find them all in Kentucky’s Drake Jackson.
Jackson, a battle-tested blocker that leaves Kentucky after starting 44 consecutive games at center, recently spoke with The Draft Network about his experience at this year’s Senior Bowl, what he loves about playing on the interior of the offensive line, what schemes he’s comfortable playing in, and what kind of impact he’ll have at the next level.
JM: You recently competed at this year’s Senior Bowl. What was that experience like?
DJ: That was an experience that I had been looking forward to for such a long time. I’ve been a fan of that event since I was in high school. I remember watching a 45-minute highlight video of the 2013 Senior Bowl on YouTube (laughs). It had all of the one-on-one practice reps and everything. I remember watching Eric Fisher that year. I was a freshman in high school. This is before I had any attention or scholarship offers. I always knew that it was something I wanted to do. I looked up to those guys. I knew they were the best of the best. From D-I to D-III, the Senior Bowl finds the best talent in the country. I’m so glad I was able to get that experience. I cherished every second of it.
JM: That’s so cool. You definitely made the most of it. What do you think is the overall impression you left on the teams?
DJ: I think I left a very positive impression. I measured in taller than a lot of teams expected I would. I played really well. I had three really good practices against good competition. A big question that teams had on me was about my versatility. They wanted to know if I could play guard. After talking to the teams, I decided to take some reps at guard during practice. I played really well there. I was thrilled with my performance. The feedback has been extremely positive ever since.
Versatility is something that you have to have as an interior offensive linemen, especially if you’re not an immediate starter. I wanted to have that in my back pocket. I proved that I can play three different positions.
JM: That was such an important showcase for you. Who were some of your favorite defensive linemen to do battle with?
DJ: Cameron Sample from Tulane is going to be a very good NFL player. He’s quick, strong, and explosive. He was tough to block. Jonathan Cooper from Ohio State was another good one. He’s a very talented player. The guy from USC, [Marlon Tuipulotu], was very good. He’s not the biggest guy, but he knows how to play the game. He was difficult to block. There was talent all over the field.
JM: Those are some great players. Did you have any productive team meetings? [Editor’s note: This interview was completed on February 16.]
DJ: I’m in the process of setting up my virtual meetings. We’re figuring all of that out right now. I’m looking forward to getting that opportunity. I’ve already interviewed with all 32 teams at the Senior Bowl. I thought I had great meetings with every team there. My agent received a lot of feedback that said I knocked that process out of the park. I think I really showcased my character. Teams are now better familiar with my intangibles.
JM: That’s good news. You made 44 consecutive starts at Kentucky. That’s very impressive. You’ve been so durable. How were you able to pull that off?
DJ: I think it’s a combination of things. The offseason is so important. I understand how to prepare my body both physically and mentally for the grind of a season. I was very fortunate. I had great resources at my disposal at Kentucky. The training staff was incredible. They knew how to properly deal with every little knick. They always took care of us and got us back on the field quickly.
I think there’s also a sense of toughness that comes with it. I really do. There were times where I picked up a minor injury. I pulled a groin, bruised up my ribs, things of that nature. I dealt with some small things and I always played through them. There may have been a game late in the season where we played against an FCS team. Maybe my shoulder hurts. I could sit that out because we know we’re going to win this game. Or I can play through it and show off my toughness. I always wanted to play every snap I could. It’s a combination of things. I was lucky. But at the same time, if I have a chance to play football, I’m always going to take it. I have nightmares of being able to play a game but sitting it out on the sidelines by choice. That’s just not me. I would never decide to sit a game out. I’ve never done that. I’ll never do that going forward either. Knock on wood, I’ve never had an injury that required me to truly sit out a game. I’ve never even had anything that kept me out of practice.
JM: That’s terrific. What’s your favorite part of playing as an interior offensive lineman?
DJ: There are so many things that I enjoy about that. We’re just blocking people, right? You just saw how a beat-up offensive line couldn’t handle a good pass rush in the Super Bowl. That’s an outstanding front seven down in Tampa. You gain a sense of pride knowing that you and the guys playing around you can hold an offense together. We’re the ones that hold it together. We don’t get much credit for it and that’s fine. We don’t ask for any credit, but we know that’s where it starts.
Of course, it takes everyone else to make some plays but we really hold the foundation together. We are the consistency of the offense. We have to protect the quarterback and create holes for the running back. That’s my favorite part of playing the position. I love seeing all of that come to fruition.
JM: I love that. Are there one or two schemes that you’re most comfortable playing in?
DJ: I played for one offensive coordinator in college. It was nice to have that consistency. We were an inside zone, power-type offense. Even our passing game was predicated by our ability to win off of play-action. We didn’t do a whole lot of traditional things with a drop-back passing game.
I haven’t experienced a lot of different offenses, but I sure did so at the Senior Bowl (laughs). It was totally new for me. I ran a lot of things I had never done before. I had a lot of fun with it. We ran some wide outside zone. We also ran a few duo concepts. Some of the passing game stuff was also very different from what I’ve experienced. I had a lot of fun with it. It was fun because I had never run any outside zone before. I went down to the Senior Bowl and I thought I adapted well to that scheme. I really enjoyed it. I don’t think I could be uncomfortable in any offense. I’ll just have to work at it and learn how to operate it. I’m a quick learner. I look forward to that aspect of the game.
JM: That’s a great answer and I’m going to end things on that note. I’ve really appreciated your time today. In closing, why should an NFL team use a draft pick on Drake Jackson?
DJ: You know what you’re gonna get in Drake Jackson. I’ve shown my consistency in college. I always do my best to make the guys around me better. I’m a guy that lives and breathes football. I’m incredibly passionate about the game. I’ve cared about football my entire life. I take the game very seriously. I’ve learned how to conduct myself in a professional way.
I take a lot of pride in making my teammates better. That’s part of your job as an offensive lineman. You’re not working alone, you’re five people coming together for one common goal. We have to make each other better. We need to be good communicators. We need to prepare. I’m dedicated to the game. Why should a team use a pick on Drake Jackson? Because I’m reliable and I get the job done.