Running for the 53: Don Jackson

By: Mark Prott

For those of us who follow the yearly 53 man roster battle, one thing has become clear under Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson, forget where you came from and your draft status and for that matter even your veteran status. To make this team, it comes down to what have you done for me lately and what physical and athletic skills you possess that can be coached up.

Ted Thompson believes in Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff getting the most out of his players, which is exactly why all Packers fans should be paying close attention to undrafted rookie free agent running back Don Jackson out of the University of Nevada. He may very well end up being the next, in a long line of undrafted rookie free agents, to make the Packers opening day 53 man roster.

Here’s what we know about the current depth of the Packers running back position entering the 2016 season. Eddie Lacy, with a renewed commitment to fitness and eating right, looks primed for a bounce back campaign in a contract year as the lead dog. James Starks returns as the number 2 back after resigning for 2 years 6 million in the offseason. Despite being age 30 and a somewhat alarming fumble rate last season, Starks proved he still has gas left in the tank with his showing last year.

Which brings us to the number 3 position on the depth chart. Let’s assume the Packers keep 3 backs like last year. John Crockett, undrafted in 2015, occupied the position from week 13 on and finished the year with 9 carries for 21 yards. Not much to gather from those limited results. The Packers no doubt know what they have in Crockett seeing him in practice on a daily basis. He very well could be the front runner for the job but that is obviously up for debate.

Shortly after the 2016 NFL Draft, the Packers created competition for the number 3 spot in the form of undrafted free agent signings of the aforementioned Don Jackson and Brandon Burks out of Troy. Both runners surpassed the 1,000 yard rushing mark in the 2015 college season Assuming Lacy and Starks enter the year as the top 2, it looks like a 3 man race for the number 3 spot.

So why do I believe the potential gem of the undrafted free agent class and number 3 back can be Don Jackson? For one, on paper he possesses more athletic physical traits than the other candidates. Listed by the Packers at 5-10 208 pounds, Jackson provides the Packers with a different body type in the backfield, which could provide even more diversity to the 2016 offense. Crockett fits the mold of the big body type the Packers already have in Lacy and Starks. Burks is listed even smaller than Jackson but again Jackson separates himself from the pack with another tool, his speed. At his pro day in March, Jackson ran a 4.47 40 and also posted a 38 inch vertical, an important number to measure explosiveness. Both those numbers would have given him a top 5 finish among running backs at the NFL combine, had he been invited

There’s also something to be said for the road of redemption Don Jackson has taken in his road to the NFL. In an article by Chris Murray of the Reno-Gazette Journal, we learn about the troubled path Jackson was headed down early in high school, embracing the culture of violence and danger present in his early life surroundings. One teacher at his first high school went so far to say, “He’ll be dead or in jail before he’s 17.”

Thankfully, in part because of the game of football and some great mentors in high school coaches, Jackson turned his life around, but he has not let his troubled past completely escape his mind. In fact, he exercises those demons on the football field, while displaying his well known powerful, violent running style. “I just try my best to run as violently as I can. I pride myself on running angry, running violent and also running smart,” Jackson told the Journal Sentinel. Okay am I the only Packers fan getting visions of Beast Mode after reading that great quote?

As if we needed more reason to be excited for training camp to begin at the end of the month. The battle for number 3 should be a good one. Running backs in particular will be difficult to judge until live tackling takes place.  But the early money here is on Don Jackson, a man on a mission of redemption in the game of life, with the physical and athletic tools to boot.