LA Rams: Iowa’s AJ Jackson draws Brandon Scherff’s former coach

Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Six years ago, an Iowa Hawkeye offensive lineman faced the 2015 NFL Draft. His name was Brandon Scherff, and he was an offensive tackle who was projected as an NFL offensive guard. This year, a second Iowa Hawkeye offensive lineman faced the 2021 NFL Draft. His name was Alaric “AJ” Jackson, and he also was an offensive tackle. Both were 6-foot-5. Both tipped the scales around 320-pounds.

One was projected to be drafted in round one. The second was projected to be drafted in round six. The first heard his name called out with the fourth pick of the 2015 NFL Draft. The second never would hear his name called out. But they would share one more thing in common. Both would join the NFL and be coached by offensive line coach Kevin Carberry.

Now, the NFL Draft profile for Brandon Scherff reads nothing like the NFL Draft profile for Alaric “AJ” Jackson, but there are certainly enough similarities to make for an interesting article. For starters, do you think that the two are completely unrelated? Or do you suspect that the success that Carberry had in coaching Brandon Scherff into a future Pro Bowler may have created a bit of bias in his stamp of approval for the Rams personnel office when signing undrafted Jackson in 2021?

After all, the Rams did not draft a single offensive lineman in 2021. But Jackson was one of the first undrafted rookies signed up and was one of the best-undrafted players from the class of 2021. But did the LA Rams was a roster spot? It certainly doesn’t appear that way. In fact, AJ Jackson made the LA Rams 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie. I’d say that he is already exceeding expectations.

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Offensive line reinforcement

The Rams know that their offensive line will be squeezed by expiring contracts in 2022. Two of the teams starting five, both Brian Allen and Austin Corbett, will need contract extensions in 2022. If Andrew Whitworth retires, the team will need to replace or extend three starters. That does not include two keep backups, Joseph Noteboom and Coleman Shelton, who will both need new contracts as well. So the Rams have plenty of incentive to ensure that Jackson develops into an NFL-capable starter quickly.

But don’t fear that the team is somehow bending the curve. Both Tremayne Anchrum and AJ Jackson stood out in the joint practices with the Dallas Cowboys, as both tackles easily handled pressure from the Cowboys’ much-lauded pass rushers.

Lean mean fighting machine

Much like defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, AJ Jackson has switched his diet and dropped his weight from 321 pounds to a svelte 285 playing weight. Not only is that a healthier playing weight, but it gives Jackson more pop out of his three-point stance, more agility, and better footwork, and his endurance to play a long afternoon of football just skyrocketed.

That will all help his push to earn a starting roster spot down the road. Thankfully, he had the chance to bang bodies in the preseason, and he put on a pretty good display of what’s to come. He has always excelled at pass blocking, but the new-and-improved lighter form now allows him to get out in space to block at the secondary level as well.

Jackson didn’t arrive and get plopped in as an NFL starting offensive guard. Nor was he drafted with the fourth pick of the NFL Draft. But he has already exceeded expectations, he did make the 53-man roster, and he is one of the promising and rapidly developing young stars on the LA Rams team.

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AJ Jackson is not a Pro Bowler. He’s not a starter. But don’t rule out either. You see, he’s a former offensive lineman from the University of Iowa and his offensive line coach is Kevin Carberry. The last time that occurred, great things happened. There’s no reason to expect otherwise just yet.