The rookie season for Drake Jackson was a mixed bag. The rookie, selected 61st overall at the end of the second round, was not expected by most to be available that late.
He got off to a hot start, securing 3.0 sacks and 4.0 QB hits over his first six games.
But things stalled. Down the stretch of the season, he found himself on the bench. The 49ers had Jackson inactive for five of the final six games, including the entire playoff run.
Jackson’s body wasn’t quite in the shape it needed to be to sustain those late-season games, and he also admitted to internal, mental struggles.
Despite the disappointing conclusion to the season, Jackon is expected to play a massive role for the 49ers.
Even with those inactive designations, he finished fourth on the team in sacks. No. 1 on the list was newly-minted Defensive Player of the Year, Nick Bosa, at 18.5 sacks. No. 2 and No. 3 were Samson Ebukam (5.0 sacks) and Charles Omenihu (4.5) sacks, who both signed sizable free agent deals elsewhere this offseason. While the likes of Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant were brought in, there were no major additions on the edge.
The 49ers are betting on Jackson. Jackson knows it. And by his own account, he’s excited for the challenge.
The second-year man out of USC told media on Wednesday that he’s added roughly 13 pounds and is still working to potentially add more. He’s around 260 pounds and said that range between 260 to 265 pounds is his ideal weight.
He stressed that his body was his priority this offseason.
“Just focusing in on my body,” Jackson said. “Just lifting and trying to get big and focusing on my mental as well because I know last year, everything was kind of a blur for me, so just really settling down and being keyed to all my details and things of that sort.”
Those five inactive designations down the stretch served as something of a wakeup call.
“Instead of me being mad or sad from being taken out of the game, I figured out things that I needed to do to help myself, to better myself,” Jackson said. “Towards the end of the season, I would say my body wasn’t the same as it was towards the start of the season. I felt like I didn’t have enough.”
John Lynch stressed that Jackson needed to add weight and work on his body, and defensive line coach Kris Kocurek made it his mission to ensure Jackson stays in the weight room.
Jackson said that Kocurek reached out to him to find out when he’d be back from an offseason break and has been hounding him in the weight room.
“Since the day I got back, he was with me every single day in the weight room telling me, ‘Are you gonna stack a day or are you just gonna let this day stack on you?’ I like challenges and I think he knows that,” Jackson said. “So he just challenges me every day to come stack a day and I’ve been doing it.”
His gains have been substantial. Jackson said he’s set personal records, squatting 415 pounds, and, on Monday, joined the “three-plate club” by bench-pressing 315 pounds.
The main difference, in his view, has been his commitment to staying around the facility.
By Jackson’s own admission, he said he left after practice without being overly concerned about the state of his body. At this juncture, he said he’s, “… starting to fall in love with just being here on countless hours.”
The early returns are promising for a man the 49ers hope to be the player opposite Nick Bosa for most of the season. He’s hopeful, too.
“I feel so much different,” Jackson said. “I feel a lot stronger and I feel like I can move a little bit different now.”