Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie made his intentions to sign quarterback Derek Carr and pass-rusher Khalil Mack clear, but what about guard Gabe Jackson?
NFL players who throw touchdown passes or wreck quarterbacks for a living receive all the attention and money. The Oakland Raiders should raise the pay grade for their superstar players, quarterback Derek Carr and pass-rusher Khalil Mack. However, we’re forgetting an overachiever within the same 2014 draft class.
Offensive guard Gabe Jackson entered the league as a third-round pick out of Mississippi State. Before donning a Raiders jersey, he showed signs of consistency and reliability on the collegiate level. During his playing years with the Bulldogs, he started 52 games and took the field as the designated captain for two seasons, per NFL.com’s Nolan Nawrocki.
At Mississippi State, Jackson became a fixture on the left side of the offensive line. In his first two seasons with the Raiders, he remained on the same side. However, offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele’s arrival bumped the third-year pro to the right side for the first time. According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson still ranked No. 22 among all players at his position.
CSN Bay Area reporter Scott Bair interviewed Jackson and discussed the transition during the previous offseason via the team’s official website. The 6-3, 336-pound guard acknowledged there would be growing pains. However, he didn’t flinch or complain about shifting from a spot that he played since his collegiate days. The lineup change looked seamless. Of course, offensive line coach Mike Tice deserves credit, but Jackson holds equal responsibility as the executor on the field.
Opening Up the Ground Attack
The Raiders climbed the ranks among rushing offenses in the previous season as the sixth-best unit in rushing yards. Some analysts give credit to Osemele for his play at left guard; others praise the rookie duo, who joined running back Latavius Murray in the backfield. As ball-carriers, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard combined for 958 rushing yards and averaged more than five yards per carry apiece.
According to Football Outsiders, 75 percent of the team’s carries went through the interior between the left and right guards. Does anyone remember how the right side of the offensive line collapsed on multiple occasions with J’Marcus Webb and Jon Feliciano on the field? Jackson deserves credit for creating lanes for the trio in the backfield.
Despite learning on the fly, he maintained his mauler status. A short clip below shows him in pulling action to clear space for the ball-carrier:
The Raiders found their franchise quarterback in Carr. Now, it’s their job to protect him so he’s out of harm’s way at all costs. We already saw what the team looks like on the field without him, and it’s not pretty. Often times, we pay attention to the perimeter linemen as the primary quarterback protectors, but defensive coordinators have become increasingly clever about generating inside pressure using stunts with athletic guards and linebackers.
For those who watched Super Bowl 51, the Atlanta Falcons sacked New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady five times. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett logged three of those quarterback takedowns.
The big guys in the middle must be able to protect the quarterback as good as they’re able to clear running lanes, especially against pass-rushing interior linemen. In the clips below, Jackson showed the ability to road block an aggressive pass-rusher charging up the middle and help on the edge during the preseason. Keep in mind, Jackson’s transition just started during training camp:
Similar to the Dallas Cowboys and Falcons, the Raiders could build a fortress around their quarterback in the pocket, which allows more time to dissect opposing defenses. A top-tier passer can perform at elite levels with the right protection around him.
Currently, the Raiders have $48.9 million in cap space, per Spotrac.com. It wouldn’t hurt to extend Jackson after dealing Carr and Mack loads of cash. The top of the 2014 draft class played a major part in the Raiders’ ascension. McKenzie should try to keep as many homegrown impact players as possible, especially at crucial positions. If it means letting Murray walk to put more dollars toward Jackson, so be it.