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Drake Jackson can make crucial rookie impact for 49ers after avoiding serious injury

Nicholas McGee

Drake Jackson was one of several San Francisco 49ers’ rookies to shine in their preseason debut against the Green Bay Packers in a performance that raised confidence he can make a critical impact as a rookie.

Edge rusher Jackson did not register a sack in the box score during the Niners’ 28-21 win over the Packers. However, he demonstrated one of the primary attributes that convinced San Francisco to use its top pick – 61st overall in the second round – on the former USC Trojan, his lower-body flexibility.

The ability to bend around the edge was one of Jackson’s key selling points during his college career and he flashed the athleticism that allows him to do that in his first appearance as a Niner.

Indeed, Jackson’s ankle flexion came to the forefront as he changed direction with startling fluidity to break up a Jordan Love pass after the Packers’ backup quarterback had rolled to his right.

He then showcased tremendous effort to chase down Love on a scramble on what proved Jackson’s final play of the game in the second quarter.

Jackson suffered a stinger on that play but was back in practice, albeit a light session, on Sunday.

Related: San Francisco 49ers schedule and game-by-game predictions

DeMeco Ryans expecting big things from Drake Jackson

drake jackson
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Having avoided a serious injury, Drake Jackson can focus on building on his encouraging debut, which left defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans impressed.

“Drake did some good things that translate to us winning games. When it comes to him on the boot play with the quarterback rolling out, him being able to attack the throwing arm, affecting the throw, not allowing the quarterback to follow through. His effort on a play over on their sideline chasing down a quarterback. Those things translate to us winning games, the effort, attacking the throwing arm, those things can help us win games. We’re expecting even more out of him.

Drake has been improving, I’m happy with where Drake is. The things that we saw him do in college he’s showing those things in the practice field, he’s showing them in the game. He’s heading in the right direction and I’m pleased with him.”

49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans on Drake Jackson

Though he had some standout plays versus Green Bay, Jackson has a lot more tools in his locker he has yet to show at the pro level in a game situation.

Drake Jackson is no one-trick pony

Jackson blends his athleticism with excellent power in his hands, which he consistently used to great effect with the Trojans. He displayed a varied set of pass-rush moves – the two-hand swipe the most impressive in his arsenal – and had success winning to the inside as well as around the edge.

Utilizing those tools successfully on a consistent basis at the highest level of the sport can take time. Crucially for Jackson, though, his ability to win in several ways improves the odds of him excelling in his first year.

Jackson can lean on his athleticism to generate pressure but proved himself a refined pass rusher in college and, as he showed in his chase down of Love, understands the value of effort plays.

His knowledge of how to use and complement his physical gifts, combined with an extremely high motor, should set Jackson up for NFL success. Playing on a defensive line as talented as that of the Niners also boosts the chances of that success coming early.

Lining up alongside the likes of Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead will theoretically enable Jackson to exploit a significant number of one-on-one matchups with his well-rounded skill set.

Provided he continues to show progress in practice and during the exhibition schedule and stays on his upward trajectory, it likely won’t be long before Drake Jackson is in a position to make the decisive contributions Ryans alluded to in games that matter.