Eastern Michigan running back Darius Jackson is a player the Detroit Lions have shown quite a bit of interest in lately. After his performance at Michigan’s Pro Day on March 17th, it’s pretty easy to see why.
Jackson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds. That’s outstanding speed for anyone, but for a guy with his 6’0”, 220-pound frame to burn up the turf like that it really commands attention. The Eagles star also had a broad jump over 11 feet and a 41” vertical. All of those numbers would have put Jackson at or very near the top of every workout metric at last month’s Combine.
The Lions certainly noticed. Per Tony Pauline of Draft Insider,
"The Detroit Lions spent hours with Jackson after the workout, driving back to EMU with him and watching film."
Okay, he obviously works out well. Can he play?
The numbers are not overwhelming, with just over 1,000 yards as a senior at 5.1 yards per carry. He did find the end zone 14 times. Context is imperative here, however. Eastern Michigan is one of the worst programs in the nation. They finished 1-11 in 2015 and recorded just 5 wins in the last three seasons. There are D-II programs in Michigan that could have beaten them, and the school hasn’t had a player drafted since T.J. Lang back in 2009.
Jackson could change that even though he only played a full-time role for one season.
When a guy runs a sub-4.4 40, you expect to see breakout speed in the open field. Jackson definitely checks that box. He explodes out of the hole and hits top speed quickly. It’s his ability to sustain the burst at his size that really stands out, as evidenced in this run against Ball State (thanks ESPN video!)
Detroit’s offense features a ton of screens and releases, and all backs are expected to contribute. Jackson didn’t get a lot of work as a receiver in 2015 (21 receptions) but No. 6 flashed the skills on this play against Wyoming…
Lions fans might recall Joique Bell being used on plays very similar to that, but Bell never had that open-field shiftiness.
He did get a crack at one of college football’s better defenses, playing at LSU. This play is pretty emblematic of both his role at EMU and how he uses his size to slam for extra yards when the blocking just isn’t there.
His forward lean and pad level are excellent here, and that persists across his game tape. I like that he doesn’t labor to lower the boom; Jackson drops the shoulder and maintains ramming speed without breaking stride or gathering himself.
With the First Pick
Reserve running backs are expected to contribute on special teams, and Jackson already has experience there. He was visible on both punt and kick return units as a blocker and looked pretty adept at it. He is not a return man.
My initial once-over on Jackson back in the fall was that he was a player who merited a camp invite. After his pro day results and in revisiting the games with a more attentive eye, I can see the Sparta, IL native hearing his name called in the seventh round.
If he joins the Lions, I would expect him to compete with Zach Zenner for the primary “heavy” running back role that will split time with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick in Detroit’s timeshare backfield.