The Dallas Cowboys reunited with Running Back Darius Jackson yesterday, officially restoring their entire 2016 draft class back onto the roster. Always a fan-favorite player, Jackson was of course waived by the Cowboys near the end of his rookie season to make room for Darren McFadden.
McFadden carried the ball 24 times over the final four games of that season, which turned out to be his last meaningful action in the NFL. Still awaiting his first regular season attempt, Jackson found himself in Cleveland after being waived by Dallas.
Ending his rookie campaign as an inactive member of the Browns roster, Jackson is only rejoining an even deeper group of running backs for the Cowboys in 2018.
It will be up to Darius Jackson to show what type of burst and athleticism he still has as a potential change of pace back, whether he is auditioning for an improbable spot on the Cowboys roster or elsewhere.
RB Darius Jackson: Strengths
The 216th overall pick of the 2016 Draft, it is easy to see why so many Cowboys followers wasted no time claiming Darius Jackson as their “pet cat”. Jackson is a smooth athlete that has no problem sticking his foot in the ground and bursting through the smallest holes with good pad level.
When Jackson is given space to work with, something the Cowboys offensive line can consistently produce for him should Jackson earn the reps, he effortlessly takes away defender's angles to him in the open field. It takes only the slightest misdirection for Jackson to beat would-be-tacklers in space, driving for extra yards with quick feet and a low center of gravity.
At his best, Jackson is decisive in picking up his blocks to create explosive plays. On the carry above, Jackson is able to pick up speed to the outside as he recognizes the second-level block from his TE – freeing him outside the numbers.
If the Cowboys offense is to remain on schedule this season, Ezekiel Elliott will undoubtedly lead the way for this rushing attack. With the team seemingly uncertain of who they trust to take Elliott off the field, Darius Jackson has a real chance to prove himself as the three-down back the Cowboys saw when drafting him as their second RB selected at the 2016 Draft.
Catching passes out of the backfield comes naturally to Jackson. Not the cleanest route runner, Jackson does well enough to shift through his gears when in the pattern to create space and be a real threat on loose plays.
The touchdown above remains the only time in Jackson's career where he's found the end zone.
RB Darius Jackson: Weaknesses
Despite his lack of availability through two frustrating seasons in the NFL so far, Darius Jackson's biggest weakness is his inability to survive initial contact. There are a stunning amount of “almost” plays on Jackson's tape, where marginal gains could have been explosive ones if Jackson could run with slightly more power and a bigger stride.
This is a light-footed running back that doesn't like ‘picking through trash' at the line of scrimmage or being forced to stop his feet. Similarly to this year's seventh round draft pick for Dallas, Jackson is like rookie Bo Scarbrough in needing blocks to set perfectly in front of him to have a chance.
Where Scarbrough made a name for himself at Alabama as a punishing runner, Jackson broke Eastern Michigan records thanks to his straight line speed and vision. Unfortunately, these are both traits that were neutralized to a fairly effective extent by the defenses Jackson faced in the preseason of 2016 – his only competition at this level.
Not knowing any other way to run the ball, Jackson will often waste lateral steps in an attempt to outrun any defender. The play above stands out as a great example of this. Instead of trusting his first read and attacking the LB (#54) up the field, Jackson bounces the play in hopes of a seal on the edge that never comes. This indecisiveness actually allows the linebacker to continue his pursuit of Jackson, picking up the angle to eventually trip him up with a low tackle.
RB Darius Jackson: Summary
The Dallas Cowboys are truly going to great lengths in retooling their offense for success in 2018. Whether you believe it was regression from Dak Prescott, mounting injuries, or Scott Linehan's play calling that held this unit back a year ago, the Cowboys are set to look drastically different around Prescott, Elliott, and a league-best offensive line.
Darius Jackson has a long way to go in earning a share of this Cowboys workload entering his third season. Lacking the next-level traits to stand out over a bulk of carries, Jackson's time to shine will be the Cowboys ongoing OTAs without pads on.
Problem being, the same goes for running backs like Rod Smith, Tavon Austin, and Bo Scarbrough, who have all proven they can also play in pads and hold a distinct role in this versatile offense. The Cowboys would not have signed Jackson if they didn't feel there was a potential role for him here, and whether or not that role is merely as a camp and preseason body will be entirely determined by Darius.
Having to go all the way back to the preseason of 2016 to find pre-injury tape for Darius Jackson, I'll be keeping a close eye on how the Cowboys RB looks early on in his second stint with the team.