LA Rams: Immeasurables to love about UDFA OT A.J. Jackson

(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) /

If you believe that reading an article that is promoting an offensive lineman who was not selected during the 2021 NFL Draft is meaningless, I won’t try to change your mind. The LA Rams have a strategy about their 2021 offseason, and no one who is reporting after the fact can truly claim to be involved in forming that strategy. All that remains is to view the entire roster additions as a whole, and then discuss the positives or negatives about that strategy.

The LA Rams did not draft an offensive lineman. That’s history. But the team did add rookie offensive linemen. So those are the players on the roster who we are left to talk about. That means speculative analysis. We all want to know the answer to the question: how will they do? The answer is debatable.  But all anyone can provide at this time of year is some form of estimation, projection, or speculation.

If you are looking for hard facts about new additions, you are setting yourself up for frustration. There are none available yet, so why are you doing so? The only true talking points about any player who is not a returning veteran involve some measure of projecting and interpretation from what the player did in college into what they are most likely to do on the LA Rams roster.  Repeating the same old ‘You don’t know,’ comments are silly. Nobody knows the future.

Setting expectations now creates anticipation

Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles Rams /

Los Angeles Rams

The fact is that we are setting up the most likely outcomes into the blank whiteboard of the unknown. It’s the best guesstimate that becomes the crux of future discussions or comparisons. We get it wrong sometimes. We whiffed big time when we saw the potential for rookie Van Jefferson to put up 1000 yards in 2020.  We got it right when we saw that rookie defensive back Jordan Fuller deserved plenty of buzz before the 2020 NFL season.

We keep setting ranges of expectations for newcomers to the LA Rams roster because it allows readers to get closer to their own expectations. That’s part of the thrill after all. One of the most popular rides at any amusement park is the roller coaster. It can take you underground, for multiple loops, sideways, spiraling, or suspended. But the one thrilling element that ties them all together is the slow climb to the top of the hill that makes the heart pound.

Anticipation that quickly turns into terror or elation is what attracts us. We love to make our hearts pound.

Anticipating A.J. Jackson’s NFL potential

NFL offseasons have a bit of that anticipation component, that can turn into terror or elation when the season starts. Perhaps no other rookie category knows this better than an undrafted player. From the moment that they arrive, the road to relevance is a hard climb. Rather than showing up as good as other players, undrafted players must outhustle, outthink, outperform, and outplay everyone else on the roster to get a chance at sticking with the team.

A.J. Jackson brings a unique situation to the LA Rams. He did not test well on his pro day. He didn’t light up the headlines with his Senior Bowl performance. But when he played for the University of Iowa, you could see how much he loved the game. For example, he was very good at blocking in misdirection plays. The LA Rams employ similar blocking schemes in outside zone rushes:

Jackson had a rather impressive draft grade, some rated him as high as round three, for good reason. Here are some of Jackson’s highlights in the East-West Shrine Bowl. when he locks horns with a defensive lineman, he stays engaged.

Highlighting his uncanny savvy

That’s the type of effort that is what the Rams are looking for in their young additions.

Even without a headliner performance during the Senior Bowl, Jackson exhibited plenty of ability that will quickly translate into the NFL.  He continued throughout the week to showcase the ability to use a defender’s inclination to ride him away from the quarterback, or out of the way of the running back

Is he a polished NFL-ready rookie? Not quite yet.

Many point to his 42 starts as the Iowa Hawkeyes offensive left tackle and had concluded that he has already plateaued. But I disagree. He achieved a level necessary to succeed in collegiate play. Now, with the promotion to the NFL, he will climb to a new level.

Jackson may not have the perfect pop out of his stance, nor pivot with perfect Olympic form to attack the second level, but he most certainly did get the job done. Experience taught him that. And it’s that same level of vast experience as a four-year starter that makes him so unique to the LA Rams this year.

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Immeasurable immeasurables

So what are these immeasurable? His durability for starters. He has a lot of college football under his belt from one of the best football programs for offensive linemen in the nation. That’s a huge feather in his cap.

Secondly, he has an amazing ability to process what he sees and make correct blocking choices. He may not be pretty in the process of blocking, but he is more often than not shown escorting his running back downfield, or riding a defender around the waterwheel to a safe distance from the quarterback.

Thirdly, he sticks like velcro to the defender. He may not plow his opponent to their backs, but he certainly knows how to stick to them well enough to thwart their intentions of making a play on the ball. That is incredibly important as he now advances into the NFL and will practice against the likes of Aaron Donald, Sebastian Joseph Day, and A’Shawn Robinson.

What do we know about this young man and his NFL future? Nothing. It’s all speculation and conjecture. But we do know that he is on the LA Rams roster, that the Rams need offensive linemen to develop, and that A.J. Jackson has been assessed by NFL draft analysts as a player who can contribute to an NFL team.

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I like his upside. He has the intangibles that aren’t effectively gauged until the pads go on. We should know more if he sees the field for any amount of time in preseason games. Until then, I believe that the Rams have found a player who could contribute in a starting role in 2022.