Melvin Gordon appears to be the starting running back of the Los Angeles Chargers for many years to come. However, the team is quietly putting together a solid stable of backs behind him.
Justin Jackson ranks No. 11 in all-time rushing yards in NCAA history. But he almost wasn’t drafted. Had the Chargers not selected him with the 251st overall pick in the draft, he likely would have had to catch on as an undrafted free agent.
That’s not common. Looking at the 10 college players to ever rush for more than the 5,440 yards put up by Jackson, six of them were selected in the first round of the draft and all but one of them was taken within the first four rounds of the draft. So why was Jackson overlooked by so many teams?
My guess? Teams likely didn’t see him as having the kind of play strength to be successful at the professional level and they were scared off by the amount of work he put in while at Northwestern. And yes, Jackson put in a ton of work. In fact, he is one of just two college players in the last 20 years to have over 1,100 career rushing attempts.
Between his 1,142 rushing attempts and 122 receptions, he averaged 24.7 touches per game during his time with the Wildcats. How much tread does he have left on those tires?
Last summer, Nicole Auerbach of USA TODAY Sports noted that the team would have Jackson wear a purple jersey during practice, one that signaled to the defense that it wasn’t allowed to hit him. It’s a similar practice to what you see quarterbacks wearing in NFL training camps.
That shows what Jackson meant to the team. It also could have helped preserve Jackson for a potential NFL career.
Jackson comes into what should be considered a great situation as the Chargers didn’t have many options at running back entering the draft. Last season, undrafted rookie Austin Ekeler showed that hard work and determination are something this team and coaching staff value as he not only made the 53-man roster, but suited up for and played in all 16 games for the team.
I believe that Jackson is a similar player who can do the exact same thing.
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Because the Chargers already had Ekeler, I found the selection of Jackson to be a bit puzzling, but if the team can have two players with the kind of intangibles that each would bring to the offense, then why not?
Jackson is built to be a rotational back and though I believe Ekeler will be a better option on third downs, he can catch the ball out of the backfield and make plays in space. This gives the team two solid options to come in and spell Gordon.
Quick and elusive, Jackson can make some impressive moves to spring a big play. Watch this:
Think the Wildcats had faith in this guy? Check out this play on 3rd-and-9. Jackson shows patience and awareness before scoring against Michigan State.
The Chargers have something here and there should be a strong belief that Jackson will make the 53-man roster this year. In fact, I’d be quite surprised if he didn’t as there’s just not much competition behind him on the depth chart. Russell Hansbrough and Detrez Newsome are the only other backs on the roster.
The amount of work he had at the college level won’t be a factor in Los Angeles as his he’ll see a limited amount of snaps each game. As a result, the team can save his big-play ability for certain situations, making him a real weapon for the offense.
Look for the seventh-round pick to make an impact this year.