LEXINGTON – Kentucky center Drake Jackson did not have to wait long after going undrafted to find an NFL team.
Jackson has agreed to terms on a free agent contract with the Detroit Lions, UK confirmed in a news release Sunday. Jackson had been projected as a likely late-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft but was not selected in the final rounds Saturday.
Jackson played in 47 games for Kentucky across four seasons, starting the final 44 games of his career.
As a senior, Jackson was named first-team All-Southeastern Conference by Pro Football Focus and second-team All-SEC by the league coaches and Associated Press. Kentucky reported Jackson graded at 85.7% with 40 knockdowns and 188 blocks at the point of attack during the 11-games season.
Jackson was the heart of a Kentucky offensive line that paved the way for a potent rushing attack over the past four years.
During his first two years as a starter, Jackson helped block for current Pittsburgh Steelers running back Benny Snell in back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. As a fourth-year junior in 2019, he was the center for Miami Dolphins wide receiver Lynn Bowden, who was forced to move to quarterback due to multiple injuries at the position and responded by leading the SEC in rushing and was named a first-team All-American as an all-purpose player.
Kentucky ranked third in the SEC in rushing yards per game (196.6) during the 2020 season playing against only conference opponents.
“It was our job in the middle to make all the calls, to see the defense, to understand as an offense what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, why we’re doing it,” Jackson said during Kentucky’s pro day. “All of those things prepared me for the next level where it gets even more complicated. If you don’t understand the playbook, if you don’t understand what’s going on, you won’t get a chance to play. That’s extremely important.”
Jackson signed with Kentucky as a four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American from nearby Woodford County High School, but he has faced doubts about his size since his high school days.
UK listed Jackson at 6-foot-2, 292 pounds, and Jackson reported measuring at a “hair under 6-foot-2” at pro day.
“Size has always been a concern,” Jackson said. “I think I’ve proven to them it shouldn’t be a concern, playing so long in the SEC and playing well, going down to the Senior Bowl and playing well.
“I think you’ve seen guys in the NFL at the center position pave the way for undersized guys because you’re starting to see that with zone schemes. They want athletic guys, they want smart guys. They’re not so much concerned with the size as they are other intangibles.”
Jackson’s intelligence was long pointed to by Kentucky coaches as being essential in his success.
He finished two degrees during his time at UK — a bachelor’s in agricultural economics and a master’s in kinesiology and health promotion — while earning SEC Academic Honor Roll honors twice.
“He reminds me so much of John Sullivan, who we had in Los Angeles,” said new Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen, who spent the last three years on Sean McVay’s staff with the Los Angeles Rams. “…Just in terms of the total understanding of the offense that he had, just blew me away. The type of conversations that Sully and Sean would have would just go over a lot of people’s heads. Drake has that level of understanding of the game. I think just being a football player is going to be able to take over.”
Sullivan, a sixth-round pick of the Vikings in 2008, spent 10 years in the NFL and started every game for the Rams during their 2018-19 run to the Super Bowl.
“He’s obviously done this at a high level for a number of years,” Coen said of Jackson. “I only foresee him continuing to do so. I do believe with the amount of things that are on centers in the NFL, especially maybe going somewhere where they don’t want too much on the quarterback or have a younger quarterback that they don’t want to put some of those things on, I do think Drake would be a great fit in some of those systems.”