KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The list of failed defensive lineman draft picks for the Chiefs in the last decade or so is a rather frightening one.
There was Ryan Sims and Eddie Freeman and Junior Siavii and Turk McBride and Tank Tyler and Alex Magee, just to name a few.
And until this year, perhaps, many fans were ready to throw another name into that infamous group: Tyson Jackson, the third overall pick of the 2009 draft.
This year, Jackson has finally come into his own under new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and new head coach Andy Reid, both of whom simply gush when they speak of Jackson.
“He’s just an incredibly alert and smart football player,” Sutton says. “You know, he’s not going to get all the publicity because he does all the dirty work in there. But he’s having a great season.
“The hard job is to go in there and bang heads and nobody knows or sees what you’re doing. Everybody would like to be the guy that got the sack or the interception or whatever, but somebody has to do these other jobs up front. That’s what he does.”
Reid repeatedly has called Jackson one of the smartest defensive linemen he’s ever coached.
“I will put my money on him as being one of the smartest defensive linemen in the National Football League,” Reid said again this week. “All the little things, like just knowing what’s going on prior to the snap. I’m not sure I’ve been around one that quite has that feel that he has. He’s very intelligent. I don’t know what his GPA was or anything like that. I’m just telling you, football-wise, he is a sharp cookie.”
It’s a compliment Jackson cherishes.
“Oh man, I love it,” Jackson says. “For a guy like coach Reid, who has been around football as long as he has, to make a statement like that, that means a lot. It means he appreciates what I do.
“I think he notices what I do in terms of pre-snap, looking at what formations the other team is in, and what plays they might run. I think he recognizes that I know that stuff. That makes me proud.”
Jackson’s statistics by themselves probably won’t wow anyone. He has 18 tackles and two sacks in seven games.
But in the 3-4 defense, the linemen are rarely in a position to make a big splash. They are there to consume blockers and contain the run, and because of their grunt work, the linebackers and blitzing defensive backs are free to get the sacks, and the glory.
“I think from a media standpoint it’s like, ‘Oh, the guy is not producing,'” Jackson says. “But to guys who know the Xs and Os about football, they know what I’m doing.”
That guys like Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston get all the attention doesn’t seem to bother Jackson.
“I’m perfectly fine with that,” Jackson says, shrugging his massive shoulders. “As long as we keep winning, I’m cool with it.”
After all, he gets plenty of love and appreciation from his mates, right?
“Not really,” he says, feigning some resentment. “I’ve been trying to get some love from DJ. Can’t seem to get it.”
Of course, Johnson, standing nearby, plays along.
“Oh, he gets love,” Johnson says. “We know what the big guys up front are doing. We know what they’re doing and how they’re stopping the run and doing their assignments. We love ’em.”
That Jackson and the Chiefs are unbeaten at 7-0 and sharing laughs in the locker room is a far cry from the misery of 2012, when the Chiefs went 2-14 and the defense seemed lost and disorganized.
The turnaround for Jackson and his teammates has come swiftly, though Jackson can’t identify one specific reason why.
“I think it’s a combination of everything,” Jackson says. “You can only be bad for so long, especially when you have this many good players. These are some good players in here and now we got a fresh start with new schemes and it’s all coming together.
“I’m not sure there’s one thing you can point to. I just know it’s working.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.