FSU, Washington Standouts Chart Course for Landon Jackson Reversing Season-Ending Whimper

Jared Verse, Landon Jackson, Arkansas football, NFL Draft
photo credit: FSU Athletics / Craven Whitlow

With transfer portal luck and rosters shifting faster than a roulette wheel can spin, Arkansas football fans have already had to endure the sight of Chris Paul Jr. joining Lane Kiffin’s minions and Rocket Sanders sitting atop a throne in South Carolina gear. In the midst of all this, a few key players have announced their returns. None have been more important than defensive end Landon Jackson, who chose to forgo entering the NFL Draft for one more year in Fayetteville. 

Jackson is now unquestionably the centerpiece of the Razorbacks’ defensive front after leading the team in both tackles for loss (13.5) and sacks (6.5). He is also the only team captain from the 2023 campaign so far who has confirmed his return and may very well be the only one.

Jackson took advantage of the transfer portal, coming over from LSU after tearing his ACL during his freshman year. Limited to just five games in the purple and gold, he played only special teams and did not record any stats. This year in an Arkansas uniform, it was against one of LSU’s fiercest rivals that Jackson announced himself to the national stage. 

Jackson stole a freshman’s “milk money” racking up 3.5 sacks and 11 tackles against a Crimson Tide team that has earned an iffy berth to the College Football Playoff. The performance garnered Jackson SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week award to underline what Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman knew he was capable of all along.

“I mean, my gosh, what a great game,” Pittman said the following Monday after the Razorbacks’ 24-21 loss to Alabama. “And he’s had them. He may not have those type of stats, but he’s certainly played well.” 

Landon Jackson’s Finish to 2023

The 6-foot-7, 280-pound Texarkana native, however, finished the season more on a whimper, stacking up just three sacks over the final five games. The house of cards finally came crashing down on Jackson in the season finale, when former Arkansas tight end DJ Williams called the captain out for opting to jog – not sprint – after Mizzou running back Cody Schrader. The poetic justice is poignant.  A potential first-round pick getting singled out for lack of effort trying to tackle an eventual Burlsworth Trophy winner, given to the nation’s top walk-on. 

See 14:00 mark here:

Schrader, who has had to grit and grind to every single opportunity and carry he’s had at the Division I level, outhustled a future NFL player on the opposing team.  Of course, Jackson was far from the only Razorback who appeared to let go of some rope in that final miserable outing.

While obviously a bad ending note, the performance wasn’t reflective of the standout effort he gave most of the season when winnable games were actually on the line. Not surprisingly, he fell down ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s big board after being ranked as the top defensive end of the 2024 draft class in October. 

Potential Comps for the Arkansas Football Star

Landon Jackson is taking the road less traveled, as most would expect someone who just a couple months ago looked like a first-round pick to go ahead and give the draft a go, but there have been other defensive linemen in recent memory who have chosen to return to the college ranks to improve their draft stock even more instead of testing the waters straight away. Take two of the top-five teams in the country; both have a defensive lineman who could have declared for the draft in 2023. 

Jared Verse of Florida State, who was projected to be the last first-round draft pick in 2023 according to a USA Today mock draft, is now projected somewhere in the 10-15 range in the 2024 draft, per CBS Sports. Verse put together back-to-back nine-sack seasons. It’s a travesty that the country won’t get to see Verse’s talents in the College Football Playoffs along with the rest of the Seminoles, who include Conway, Ark., native Robert Scott. 

They are the first undefeated Power Five team left out of the national semifinals. (Aside: It’s criminal to punish Florida State, instead of rewarding them, for beating a top-20 team Louisville team in the ACC Championship with a third-string quarterback, however ugly it might have been. How many teams would beat a top-20 team with their third-string quarterback?)

Undefeated Washington brought back edge player Bralen Trice, who could have declared for the draft in 2023 as a projected under-the-radar Day 2 selection according to ProFootballNetwork. Now, he’s seen as a consensus late first-round draft pick.

Trice racked up 12 tackles for loss and nine sacks in 2022. Despite his numbers taking a dip to 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 2023, his draft stock has shot up. Trice played 797 snaps in 2023, good for second-most in the country among defensive ends. 

Whether it’s the 4-8 disaster of a season that left a bad taste in Jackson’s mouth, or his desire to rise even higher up draft boards in 2025, or most likely both, his return serves as a much-needed surprise for Arkansas.

Head coach Sam Pittman and defensive coordinator Travis Williams’ task gets easier with Jackson as their centerpiece of next year’s defense, just as Pittman’s task got easier after the 2020 season when Grant Morgan announced he was returning. That decision led to a season in which Morgan won the Burlsworth Trophy, named after the former Razorback great Brandon Burlsworth.

Landon Jackson, a former blue-chip recruit on the cusp of becoming a first-round pick, has never been confused with a walk-on. But talent didn’t matter when he and his teammates were getting trampled all over by former walk-on Cody Schrader in late November.

By coming back in 2024, he can ensure that kind of embarrassment doesn’t happen to Arkansas again in the foreseeable future.

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