49ers rookie review: Drake Jackson strong start a reason for optimism in 2023

Drake Jackson’s rookie year ended with a harmless thud after getting healthy scratches in Week 16, Week 18 and all three playoff games. However, there were enough flashes from Jackson early in his rookie campaign to provide optimism moving into his second year.

The 49ers didn’t have a first-round pick in the 2022 draft, so they had to wait until the end of the second round where they scooped Jackson out of USC with the No. 61 overall pick.

A tumultuous career with the Trojans had Jackson changing positions and fluctuating his weight, which led to a dip in production and catalyzed his slide in the draft. Some analysts believed the 49ers snagged a first-round talent late in the draft, and it looked like it early on.

Through seven games Jackson posted 10 pressures, 4.0 sacks and two QB hits according to Pro Football Focus. Then the wheels started to wobble.

Over his final eight games the rookie defensive end didn’t record a sack, had just one QB hit and six pressures.

While the dip in productivity isn’t a good sign, head coach Kyle Shanahan after the season blamed the downturn on the physical rigors of an NFL schedule.

“I think Drake showed a lot this year on what he can be, but he needs to get to what he can be,” Shanahan said at his end-of-season press conference. “I thought he was closer to that earlier in the year. It was a long season and I think he learned as a year goes, if you lose any power in this league, it gets a lot harder. And we had a decent group of rushers and I think as the year went out and towards the end, it got too long for him, and his body wasn’t quite ready for what we needed.”

This will be a key offseason for Jackson to get his body right knowing he’ll have the same role in the NFL. There won’t be position changes to worry about. He can just focus on readying himself for the demands of an 18-week schedule, especially since he’ll likely take on a larger role in 2023.

With Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu and Jordan Willis all set to hit free agency, the 49ers could wind up having some available snaps at defensive end. Ideally those snaps will go to Jackson. If he can play all year like he did in his first seven games as a pro, San Francisco’s defensive line should get better even if they lose some talent on the free agent market.


4 49ers facing make or break offseason in 2023

Story originally appeared on Niners Wire