Chris Grier has done a fantastic job infusing the Miami Dolphins with talent the past two off-seasons. Like any GM though, he has his share of missed draft picks. No matter how much film study or background work you do, the draft will always be an inexact science.
Sometimes players elevate their game when they get to the NFL and other times they fall off a cliff. Each of these players has either struggled to replicate their college success or hasn’t taken off like some evaluators thought they could.
It’s difficult to know what to make of Austin Jackson’s career at this point. When he was taken 18th overall (2020 draft), it felt like the Miami Dolphins had reached to secure the young tackle. To be fair, there is a very good chance that he would have been off the board before their next selection-the 26th overall pick which they later traded down from to select Noah Igbinoghene.
There were a few things about Austin Jackson that likely appealed to several NFL clubs. He had the measurables that you look for in an offensive tackle. His size (6’5 322 lbs.), arm length (34.13 inches), 10-yard split (95th percentile), Broad Jump (98th percentile), and verticle jump (84th percentile) were all impressive. Jackson’s biggest concern coming out was play strength and he knocked out 27 reps of bench press with 34+ inch arms.
On top of this, there was (and is) evidence that Jackson is a high-character guy. Jackson’s younger sister suffers from a rare genetic condition (Diamond Blackfan Anemia) that required bone marrow transplants to help her body produce red blood cells. Jackson stepped up prior to his 2019 season to donate-which cost him time and strength prior to his final season with USC.
If anyone needed another reason to be interested in Jackson prior to the 2020 draft, he had still not reached 21 years of age. Jackson had produced average results on the field in college, but there was reason to believe he had plenty of room to grow.
Early Career Success
To further complicate all of this, Jackson looked like a homerun pick to start his playing career. He was a week one starter and had some really impressive games during his rookie campaign.
This was facing off against Hassan Redick and Melvin Ingram in the prime of their playing careers. He looked smooth, he looked confident... he looked ready for NFL football. It seemed Miami had made a solid pick and people would forget that they took Jackson well above his projected draft slot.
The second half of his rookie campaign was filled with struggle. This isn’t an odd situation as most rookie linemen have a hard time adapting to the speed and athleticism of defensive linemen in the NFL. Jackson’s career started pointing downward during his second NFL season after the Dolphins promoted rookie offensive line coach Lemuel Jeanpierre.
Jeanpierre is still on the staff as an assistant and I have no doubt that he has a bright future as a coach in the NFL, but in hindsight, it seems like he was in over his head with this promotion. The Dolphins struggled across the board on the offensive line and Jackson may have been the most disappointing of the group.
One of the biggest disservices to his career may have been when Miami chose to slide him inside to left guard-where he played the majority of 2021. Here is a guy that is appealing because of his athleticism and measurables for the tackle position. His biggest issue is probably play strength and you move him inside to guard? The move never made sense and Jackson’s future was always going to be at tackle.
Fast forward to 2022 and Jackson is back at tackle... this time at right tackle. This was the best move for him going forward, but it also created a situation when Jackson has played three different primary positions since entering the league. Left tackle as a rookie, left guard in year two, and now right tackle in year three. This will be the first time he is able to play the same position for back-to-back seasons.
Verdict: 2023 is his opportunity to show what he can do
He’s in the final year of his rookie contract and the Miami Dolphins have already declined to pick up his fifth-year option. Jackson should have a little extra motivation this upcoming season. He has some solid NFL experience under his belt and has endured his share of struggles to get to this point. It’s his first time being in the same offense and his first time playing the same position in back-to-back seasons.
For Jackson, it will come down to staying healthy in 2023. He only played in two contests last season, not even managing to break 100 snaps for the year. I’ve always been a fan of Jackson and this coaching staff is giving him another opportunity for a reason: they see something in him.
The fan base has shown frustration with the young lineman (still just 23 years old), but the Dolphins could be rewarded for their patience if he can stay healthy for the majority of 2023. Jackson is an easy guy to root for and I expect to see a new player this upcoming season.