In the 2021 NFL Draft, 259 players heard their names called by NFL franchises. Drake Jackson was not one of them.
The former top-150 recruit started 44 consecutive games to end his career and was an All-SEC selection in both 2019 and 2020. The star center earned an invite to the Senior Bowl and received positive reviews playing against draft competition and fighting through a groin injury.
Still, one of the best centers in college football went undrafted. There are some reasons for this.
Lack of size
The biggest issue that has plagued Jackson since his time as a recruit has just been his small stature. At 6-1 and 293 pounds, the Versailles (Ky.) Woodford County product was both the shortest and smallest center prospect in this class. That matters to teams when gauging how these players will hold up while banging bodies with huge defensive tackles every week.
When measuring at Kentucky’s Pro Day, Jackson had very short arms (31) and really small hands (8 1/4). These numbers likely made him a stay away on the board while others likely had a sixth or seventh-round grade on him.
Throw in a right groin injury suffered at the Senior Bowl, and that did not help matters. Jackson was unable to test at the pro day and the medical issue may have scared some teams away.
When teams enter the late rounds of the NFL Draft, personnel decision-makers are no longer looking for starters outside of special team positions. This part of the draft is all about finding depth for your roster and players that can turn into quality backups.
Due to the 53-man rosters in the NFL, teams need players that have some positional versatility. This is especially true on the offensive line. Your backup center needs to play guard. Your third tackle must be able to slide inside to play at guard. Reserves need to be comfortable playing both the right and left sides.
Jackson was strictly a center as a high school recruit and a center only in college. If he makes it in the NFL, it will be at center and nothing else. Since he wasn’t valued as a starter in this draft, teams passed on spending draft capital on the former blue-chip recruit knowing that he could not provide value outside of the center spot.
Deep center class
Center is not a position a lot of teams like to talk about. It’s stuck in the middle of the line while the tackles on the edge are the ones people focus on to come off the board in the first round. However, it is an essential position that all 32 teams must nail.
This was a very good year to get a starting center if you needed one.
Alabama’s Landon Dickerson played all five positions during his college career and is probably a day one selection if he wasn’t coming off of a knee injury. Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey is a first-round talent. Quinn Meinerz of Wisconsin-Whitewater came out of nowhere at the Senior Bowl to become a high priority. Josh Myers was a very good player at Ohio State while Kendrick Green out of Illinois feels like a perfect outside zone scheme center.
Due to the depth, Jackson was buried on draft boards throughout the league. In another year, the center would have had a higher value.