Offensive linemen are usually the most unrecognized players on the field, but Raiders’ rookie offensive guard Gabe Jackson has a chance to make the biggest impact of all the rookies.
As noted before, Jackson faces tough competition on the offensive line facing Khalif Barnes and Kevin Boothe. However, Head Coach Dennis Allen has already spoken very highly of Jackson.
Coming out of the SEC Jackson played against the toughest competition in college. In his career, he compiled 52 career starts at left guard, and did not give up a sack his last two seasons. Combined with a big body at 6’3 and 336 pounds, the Oakland Raiders netted themselves a future mauler for their offensive line.
The Raiders are going to need Jackson, as they plan to build their offense around the run. They’ll need Jackson to keep their frequently-injured running back Darren McFadden and high-mileage running back Maurice Jones-Drew both in the line-up.
Plus, Matt Schaub needs to stay off his backside, and the wide frame of Jackson can help. Jackson should be an asset in both the running and passing game. Allen also spoke of his high football IQ which is needed for any rookie to play well in their first season.
Added, us Raiders fans remember Lucas Nix, Mike Brisiel, and Khalif Barnes were our offensive guards. Nix was ranked one of the worst guards in the entire NFL, and he finished the season with a negative grade according to profootballfocus.com (subscription required). Brisiel was a scheme miss-fit, and Barnes played well but his natural position is tackle.
Therefore, the Raiders have a need for a guard to step up and secure the position moving forward.
Either way Jackson should be an upgrade over those guys for this season and years to come. He does not have the experience of Khalif Barnes, but he should be a better fit as a downhill pulling guard than Nix or Briesel.
Further, Jackson was a team captain at Mississippi State, so he understands what it takes to be a leader. Having extensive experience at the college level should make him a blue-collar cornerstone ready to compete this season.
As for his rookie counterparts, Khalil Mack, the fifth overall pick has a tough adjustment to make jumping from University of Buffalo to the NFL. The recent success of first round pass rushers can fall anywhere on the spectrum, just ask last year’s top pass rushers Dion Jordan (2.0 sacks) and Ezekiel Ansah (8.0 sacks).
Other top-rookies are not going to have the instant impact that Jackson can have being a starter from day one. Derek Carr already faces a stiff quarterback competition which is Matt Schaub’s to lose. Also, fourth round picks Justin Ellis and Keith McGill figure to have situational and rotational roles at first.
Meanwhile Jackson is in a position to not only compete but to seize the starting position. The left guard spot is on the blindside and is a vital part to any offense.
Hence, the Raiders selected their most valuable first-year player with their third selection of the 2014 NFL draft. Jackson is not only NFL ready in his first season, but will be a cornerstone for the franchise for years to come.