Former Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn had a lot of faults, but the one thing he consistently found success at was drafting offensive lineman.
Taylor Decker (71 starts) and Frank Ragnow (45 starts) are two of the best players on the current roster and have both received large second contracts. Graham Glasgow got a big contract with the Denver Broncos after starting four years (58 starts) in Detroit. Joe Dahl (21 starts) received a contract extension before falling out of favor with the last coaching staff. Tyrell Crosby has been a reliable reserve and has stepped up on multiple occasions (18 starts). And most recently, Jonah Jackson (16 starts) is the latest offensive lineman—joining Decker, Ragnow, and Glasgow—to find himself in the starting lineup as a rookie.
This is the fourth installment in a series of articles at Pride of Detroit where we will examine the snap counts for Lions rookies during the 2020 season. You can read the previous articles in this series here: Jeff Okudah, D’Andre Swift, and Julian Okwara.
Jonah Jackson, IOL: Round 3, Pick 75
Entering 2020, the Lions retained three starting offensive lineman—Decker (LT), Dahl (LG), and Ragnow (C)—but needed to shore up the right side of the line. Instead of re-signing Glasgow (RG), Quinn opted to use the available funds on tackle/guard hybrid Halapoulivaati Vaitai and earmarked him to play at right tackle, replacing Rick Wagner.
With journeyman lineman Oday Aboushi and Kenny Wiggins as the best available options for the vacant right guard spot, Quinn drafted Jackson in the third round, hoping he could compete for a starting role. It didn’t take long in training camp before Jackson was not only starting at right guard, but looking like the best guard on the roster. His college experience at center also made him a reliable emergency option behind Ragnow.
Jackson would enter the season as an obvious starter and he was expected to maintain that role for the season.
Jackson’s 2020 snap counts
In the chart below, you can see the snap counts from Jackson’s entire rookie season. They are broken down by offensive snaps, percentage of offensive snaps, special teams snaps, and percentage of special teams snaps.
Jackson officially got the start in Week 1, but he didn’t play every snap as coaches opted to get Aboushi some work in at right guard for two series. At the conclusion of the game, it was revealed that Dahl had injured himself significantly enough to be placed on injured reserve and was replaced in the starting lineup by Aboushi at left guard. This allowed Jackson to see every rep in Week 2 while at right guard.
In Week 3, Vaitai returned from injury, and with Crosby playing very well at right tackle, coaches opted to shuffle the offensive line around. Decker and Ragnow remained fixtures at left tackle and center, respectively, and Crosby earned the opportunity to stick at right tackle. With Crosby in the way, Vaitai would shift inside to right guard, and Jackson would switch sides and start at left guard. This grouping would remain in place for Week 4 and was the preferred option for the remainder of the season.
After the bye, the Lions headed down to Jacksonville in Week 6 and the coaching staff had some concerns about the offensive line's ability to hold up in the humidity. Per former coach Matt Patricia, the plan was to play eight offensive linemen during the game, rotating both guard spots as well as right tackle. Jackson would see 43 of his 59 snaps at left guard and the other 16 at right guard.
From Weeks 7-16 coaches finally opted to settle down the left side of their offensive line and Jackson would play every offensive snap at left guard over those 10 games. He was on schedule to play every snap in Week 17 but was required a concussion evaluated midway through the game, and with nothing left to play for, chose the safe route and didn’t return to the field.
His 1,004 snaps were the most played by any Lions rookie in 2020, and more than doubled all but John Penisini. In fact, only one Lions player on offense logged more snaps than Jackson: left tackle Taylor Decker, who played every single snap of the season.
Jackson is the clear starter at left guard, and unless something disastrous happens, that’s not changing anytime soon. With a year of experience under his belt, an offseason of knowing what position he will be playing, and a new diet helping him stay fit, Jackson appears primed to have an even better sophomore campaign.
With Decker and Ragnow flanking Jackson, the Lions have a very reliable left side of the line. Combine that with Vaitai finally healthy and returning to right guard, as well as first-round pick Penei Sewell manning the right tackle spot, it’s not overly surprising that Jackson believes the Lions' offensive line could be the best in the NFL.
“I think we can be the best, know what I’m saying?” Jackson said after minicamp. “It’s just a matter of how far we want to go, and how we attack each week.”
Let’s hope Jackson is right.