The Detroit Lions offensive line comes into 2022 with the highest expectations of any position group. The group now features three first-round picks (Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Penei Sewell), one big free agency signing (Halapoulivaati Vaitai) and a young third-round pick coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance.
The last of that group is Jonah Jackson, and he is coming into this upcoming season with as high of expectations as anyone else.
“I think we can be the best in the league,” Jackson said of the offensive line. “I know we can be the best in the league. We just got to come up to work everyday.”
But let’s focus in on Jackson today. He’s entering Year 3 after a breakout season. So what’s next for the Lions’ starting left guard? What changed last year and what does he still need to improve upon?
Let’s take a closer look in our fourth installment of our roster review.
Expectations heading into 2021
Jackson came into Year 2 with a fair amount of expectations. Though he graded out as a mediocre offensive lineman in his rookie year, there were clear flashes of what Jackson could become, especially as a potentially run blocker.
I think this Jonah Jackson is going to be alright for the Lions... Few highlights plays vs GB. Powerful mauler will fit right into the NFC North pic.twitter.com/DCvbwWhRXl— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) September 22, 2020
D’Andre Swift’s 54-yarder vs Jacksonville — always thank your guards, folks.— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) October 21, 2020
Split zone with two backside routes to create extra space. But Jonah Jackson and Halapoulivaati Vaitai are the main event(s) here. pic.twitter.com/bWWJkRoK6J
There was still plenty of room for improvement, though. PFF credited him with five sacks allowed in 2020, and his 51.2 overall pass blocking grade left a lot to be desired. Jackson, himself, took on some martial arts training in the offseason to improve his hand work when it comes to pass blocking—plus he put on a little extra weight.
“I’m learning a lot of the different block techniques, working my hands, learning how to get hands off of me,” Jackson said. “It’s become completely beneficial to my development as my offensive lineman.”
Additionally, with Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow beside him, Jackson was headed for a great position to take a Year 2 jump.
Actual role in 2021
2021 stats: 16 games (16 starts): 2 sacks allowed
PFF grade: 69.3 (20th out of 56 qualifying guards)
- 56.4 pass blocking grade (38th)
- 76.4 run blocking grade (10th)
Unfortunately for Jackson, he would not have the benefit of being placed between both Ragnow and Decker for even a single snap in 2022. Decker missed the first eight weeks with a finger injury, while Ragnow missed the final 13 games with a toe injury.
Still, Jackson did indeed make a significant Year 2 jump. He was a top-10 run blocker in the league at his position, and he was constantly standing out as a reason Detroit averaged 4.4 yards per carry in 2021:
24 & 21-years old..this left side in Detroit of Jonah Jackson/Penei Sewell work very well together and have been impressive this season. pic.twitter.com/cQupVyVmwC— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) November 2, 2021
Jackson even took some strides as a pass protector. He dropped the sacks allowed to just two, and slightly improved his pass blocking grade, per PFF. Still, Jackson allowed 35 pressures in both Year 1 and Year 2, which is among the top half of the league in most pressures allowed.
Regardless, head coach Dan Campbell—who was already impressed when he watched Jackson’s rookie tape—saw significant development in 2021.
“He is becoming a better player,” Campbell said. “He is developing the way you want for a second-year player. He’s been, he’s one of those guys that fall into that bucket when you talk about these young guys, the guys we drafter or rookie free agents, and these second-year players. Him being one of them that you feel like has really begun to improve. I like where he’s at. He’s just got to keep going, because he’s gonna be a steady force for us. I believe for years to come.”
Jackson’s 2021 season was capped with a Pro Bowl trip. He was named a second alternate by the NFL, and due to a couple of players dropping out, he got to make the trip to Las Vegas. He became the Lions’ first ever home-grown guard to make the Pro Bowl.
Outlook for 2022
While Jackson deserves a ton of credit for earning Pro Bowl honors in just Year 2, expectations should be even higher for the 25-year-old offensive lineman this season. Hopefully, he’ll be able to play between Decker and Ragnow again, but most of all, Jackson still has a lot to improve upon when it comes to pass blocking.
This offseason, Jackson has spent a significant time in the film room, studying players he admires and hopes to learn from.
“(For) pass pro, I break it down with Zach Martin, Ali Marpet,” Jackson said earlier this year. “Those guys are real clean, veterans of the game. I know (Marpet) just retired, but I watched the game he had against Aaron Donald in the playoffs. He had a great game versus him. So just taking those things and add them to my game. The game is slowing down as I’m getting older so I’m able to pick up on stuff like that.”
Jackson should continue to be a serious force in the run game. That will always be his specialty. But if he can take his pass protection to another level, this past Pro Bowl will be far from his last.