In a game predicated on sacrifices, nobody embodies a selfless mentality like newest Miami Dolphin, Austin Jackson. The left tackle from the University of Southern California heard his name called by the Commissioner on Thursday night, serving as a bookend to a wild year for Jackson and his family.
Jackson and his younger sister, Autumn, are inseparable. Diamond-Blackfan anemia (DBA), a bone marrow deficiency that robs the body of producing red blood cells, had been causing complications for Autumn for a number of years. The impact of the treatments had been deteriorating, leaving Autumn with limited options, the best of which was a bone marrow transplant.
As fate would have it, Jackson and his sister were a perfect blood match across 12 different criteria.
"It was a godsend," Austin said. "She's a fighter. She's really tough.
Austin spent most of the 2019 summer in Phoenix in anticipation of the transplant. Finally, the family received word that it was go-time, and a successful three-and-a-half hour procedure left Austin nearly immobilized for the next week with throbbing pain in his lower back.
With his family taken care of, it was time to get back to football for the 6-foot-5, 322-pound blindside protector. Turning 21 next month and without the benefit of an offseason program in 2019, Jackson's upside is only beginning to come unfurled.
"He's got great knee bend (a technique while blocking) and he can really move laterally," NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said. "He's only going to get better."
Jackson blazed a 5.07 time in the 40-yard dash at his NFL Scouting Combine on-field workout. He measured at least in the top 84th percentile among all offensive linemen since 1998 with the 40 time, as well as his vertical and broad jumps coming in at 31 and 115 inches respectively. It's the athleticism that catches the scout's eyes when they cut the tape.
"Jackson has loads of athletic ability and play talent," says Lance Zierlein of NFL.com. "He's scheme-diverse with potential guard flexibility and could become an early starter."
Zierlein mentions Jackson's nimble feet as a strength for his ability to cover a lot of ground quickly on his initial kick-slide in pass sets. The athletic profile helps Jackson against speed rushers both running the opposition around the quarterback and out of the play, and working to redirect against counter moves.
Those sweet feet benefit Jackson getting to the second level and in space in the run and screen game. As Zierlein notes, he's rangy on long pulling plays and wide receiver screens, and particularly adept at hitting cutoff blocks at the second level.
Jackson's athletic ability was on display at the Combine and at left tackle in college, but also on the field goal block team. The big lineman used that leaping ability to reject two kicks in his USC career.
The Dolphins' vision under Chris Grier and Brian Flores calls for smart, tough, disciplined players that are hungry and ready to embrace the grind.
"Passionate and competitive," Jackson described himself. "I want to win. Line up with my teammates, my guys, and I play to win. Compete. Dominate."
The youngest tackle in this draft class, Jackson acknowledge both his room for growth and the path to become the player Grier and Flores envision.
"I have a work ethic unlike any other," Jackson said at the NFL Combine. "I see what needs to be fixed within myself, and I'm able to correct it and improve."
Jackson played 1,748 snaps the last two years, all at left tackle. Pro Football Focus notes his smooth movement and urgent pass sets as the two best traits he offers as an NFL tackle. His 27 bench press reps – which rank in the 79th percentile – are even more impressive considering his length with the 34.5-inch arms.
Jackson's lifelong dream was fulfilled Thursday night, but the real work has just begun.
"I'm confident," Jackson said. "I come from a family of football players. This is what I've been working for. This was my dream since I was a kid, since I started playing football. And I'm ready."