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77 Days Until Iowa Hawkeyes Football: Alaric Jackson

Can the Big Ten’s top pass blocker improve on his stellar sophomore campaign?

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Mississippi State vs Iowa Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Next up on our countdown to the start of the Hawkeye football season is the cornerstone of Iowa’s offensive line and the man who does more than anyone to keep quarterback Nate Stanley upright.

Alaric Jackson - Junior

Detroit, Michigan (Renaissance)

6’6”, 320 lbs

2019 Projection: Left tackle

Jackson came to Iowa as a three-star recruit from Detroit, a ranking which underrated his athleticism and potential, but also spoke to his raw technical skills. Jackson did not step on to the football field until he was a junior in high school, which makes his stellar play at the collegiate level even more impressive. After redshirting in 2016 to develop more polish to his game, Jackson was unexpectedly pressed into the starting lineup after senior left tackle Boone Myers suffered an ankle injury during the preseason. In only his fourth year playing organized football, Jackson was named to both the Freshman All-Conference and All-American teams and became one of the few freshmen to be a full-time starter for Iowa during the Ferentz era.

Despite missing both the Pinstripe Bowl and the 2018 season opener against Northern Illinois due to suspension, Jackson quickly rebounded and turned in an excellent sophomore campaign. The hulking offensive lineman was named to numerous second-team All-Big Ten lists and was even graded as the conference’s best pass blocker by Pro Football Focus. Heading into his junior year, Jackson is already being projected as a potential first round pick in the 2020 NFL draft by multiple analysts.

What makes Jackson stand out despite his relative lack of football experience? The rising junior combines excellent strength with surprising mobility, allowing him to excel as both a run and pass blocker. While Iowa’s offensive line struggled in run blocking as a unit in 2018, Jackson was consistently a standout, blowing up defensive ends and regularly making his way to the second level of the defense. In this play from his freshman season, Jackson shows the type of intelligence and awareness that helped him make the 2017 academic All-Big Ten list, shrewdly using his body to take both Tuf Borland and current Minnesota Viking Jalyn Holmes completely out of the play, opening up a massive patch of open space for James Butler to cut towards:

Jackson’s footwork still has room for improvement next season. While plays like the one below were far more common during his freshman season, Jackson has occasionally appeared slow to react to edge rushers, appearing far too stiff and upright to contain defenders looking to beat him around the outside:

Still, you can’t coach the kind of strength and athleticism that Jackson possesses. He regularly rag-dolled defenders during his sophomore campaign, including a particularly memorable play during Iowa’s road win against Minnesota:

It’s bad enough when your defensive end is getting pancaked by the left tackle on a run play, but you rarely see a Big Ten defensive lineman manhandled so effortlessly by someone who is PASS BLOCKING. Plays like that one make it very clear why NFL scouts have Jackson firmly on their draft radars.

Just how good could Alaric Jackson be in his junior year? Well, after another spring and summer lining up against AJ Epenesa nearly every play during practice, I’d say the sky may very well be the limit.