Do you know what dragon fruit tastes like? Some liken it to pear. Others say it tastes like kiwi. I personally feel it has a berry-like quality. But, outside of suffering a medical condition, nobody should say it tastes like tomato.
The accuracy of comparisons often boils down to the eye of the beholder, but occasionally they are just outright wrong. Such is the case in Matt Jones’ recent comparison of Landon Jackson and Myles Garrett on his radio show, Halftime on ESPN Arkansas.
The Arkansas defensive end and former Texas A&M standout do share commonalities, but there is a much better comparison with the player Jackson most wants to emulate.
In July, Jones was gushing over the type of player Jackson can become with his offseason weight gain.
“Really, Myles Garrett is kinda the guy who comes to mind,” Jones said. “All (Jackson) has to do is be the best version of himself, but if he can be an All-SEC caliber type of defensive end, that just opens the door up for so many other playmakers to make plays.
“If you have one guy who can cause so much havoc, that’s a Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney. Someone out there that they have to double team you. As a defensive coordinator, you’re just licking your chops.”
Why Landon Jackson is Not Myles Garrett
Landon Jackson is an outstanding player in his own right, but he does not come with the acclaim that came with either Myles Garrett or Jadeveon Clowney. Jackson was rated a high four-star prospect coming out of high school. Garrett and Clowney were both five-star recruits and listed as either the first- or second-best player in the entire country.
Although all three are very large young men, they all differ slightly. Garrett and Clowney are slightly shorter than Jackson, at 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5, respectively. Jackson is 6-foot-7. Both weigh less than Jackson’s current weight of 280.
Let’s look at speed next.
Garrett ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash when he tested at the combine, but that number actually seems high. Two years ago, he ranked fifth in all of the NFL in get-off time, which is a new trusted statistic for how quickly a player gets off the line after the snap.
Jadaveon Clowney ran a 4.53 at the combine and there were reports at the time that he ran under 4.5 at South Carolina. That not only would have made him the fastest defensive lineman in the draft, but he would have been faster than any linebacker as well. Jackson is also quick, but NFLdraftbuzz.com has his 40 time at 4.68.
The speed difference is highlighted in each player’s rushing style. Garrett and Clowney both combined elite speed with raw strength and athleticism. If you watch their college highlight tapes, you will see the majority of plays they succeed on a speed rush around the offensive lineman without getting touched. Their next most common move is a bull rush right through the defender.
This differs from Jackson. When you watch tape from last year and this spring, you never see him use a speed rush. Instead, he almost always uses his long arms to get off the block and out-leverage linemen. Garrett used his arms some, but Clowney rarely did. Jackson, also to this point, has not used a bull rush where he just pushes the lineman back into the pocket. He does use some power for his inside move, but has yet to show the ability to knock linemen back into the pocket.
In all three cases, if you leave any of these players unblocked or blocked by a running back or tight end in motion, they are going to blow up the play. Garrett and Clowney routinely destroyed inadequate blockers, especially if they were trying to block them coming out of a motion, and if you gave them a free release, there was a good chance a turnover was coming.
Jackson showed that same type of prowess in Arkansas’ spring scrimmage on at least three different occasions. On one play early in the scrimmage, Jackson came free on a stunt and was unblocked all the way to the quarterback, whom he touched for a sack. On the other two plays, Jackson was supposed to be blocked by a running back or tight end.
On one, he blows right around the running back to force the quarterback to throw the ball away. On the other, he is blocked but got so much penetration, the running back with the ball is taken down in the backfield.
A Better Comparison
As I tried to search for a better comparison for Landon Jackson, I came across many names and couldn’t find one that fit all areas of his game. Fortunately, it turns out Jackson supplied the best comparison himself.
In an interview on Matt Jones and Phil Elson’s radio show, Jackson said the player he most wants to emulate is Maxx Crosby with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Let’s delve into the reasons. First, Crosby played defensive end at Eastern Michigan in college and, much like Jackson last year, played at around 240 pounds. Since then, Crosby has put on 15 pounds and become an outstanding defensive end in the NFL, averaging 9.5 sacks a year.
Jackson weighed in at 238 for the Liberty Bowl, but strength and conditioning coach Ben Sowders told him he’d be up to at least 275 by the time fall camp rolled around.
“I looked at him and I said, ‘You’re crazy, no way I could put on that much weight,’” said Jackson, who put on more than 40 pounds and is now listed at 281. “Somehow it happened.”
Even with the weight gain, it seems Jackson has not lost his speed. Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman said he was clocked at over 20 mph during winter workouts and that speed showed in the spring game. Crosby and Jackson have run similar 40-yard dash times. Crosby’s was 4.66 at the NFL combine, two-hundredths of a second faster than Jackson’s time.
Crosby also primarily used his hands to gain leverage and get past offensive lineman in college, much as Jackson does. Both rely on their long arms to be able to get around the opposing lineman. Their inside moves are similar. Both engage the offensive lineman with power and then sweep their arms to get inside.
Bad Comp, Good Comp for Arkansas Star
The problem with Matt Jones’ comparison is he named two guys who were possibly the best players in all of college football during their time. Both were All-Americans, drafted No. 1 overall and were physical anomalies combining length, speed and power.
It’s like casually comparing young dual-threat quarterbacks on the college level to Matt Jones himself. Jones was such a freak athlete in so many categories that it’s an unfair comparison to the younger players.
Comparing Landon Jackson to past overall No. 1 NFL Draft picks is silly and it sets an unrealistic expectation for the Arkansas football fanbase. People will start looking for Jackson to be a game wrecker, which is not something he has shown he can do up to this point.
In fairness, Jones qualified his opinion by talking about the importance of having an All-SEC defender and that does seem more of a possibility for Jackson. Jackson is certainly talented and seems to be coming into his own this year, but setting these kinds of expectations is unkind to him.
Maxx Crosby is a much better comparison. First, Jackson is the one who made the comparison in the first place. Second, Crosby was seen as an unfinished product who needed to put on weight coming out of college. Jackson has been seen much in that same way and added 40 pounds. Third, Jackson plays with the same style of rush that Crosby did in college.
It seems likely to me that Jackson has modeled his game after the NFL star. If he can put himself on the same trajectory, he has a chance to be very good, though not reaching the lofty levels Clowney and Garrett achieved.
Still, that should be good enough for Razorback fans.
More coverage of Arkansas football and Arkansas fall camp from BoAS…