2014 Sleeper ILB: Andrew Jackson
There aren't many NFL-ready inside linebackers in the 2014 NFL Draft. Beyond C.J. Mosley, there won't be an inside linebacker taken until late in the second round. When the fifth-best middle linebacker won't be selected until the fourth round, it doesn't bode well for even more underrated prospects. They will fall through the cracks this season and will be forced to make teams as undrafted free agents. Even the linebackers who would be drafted between rounds 5 and 7 during a year with a deep inside linebacker class will probably go undrafted this season. These are good prospects, but they're projects, players who need some work but have high ceilings. The best of the underrated prospects in my mind is Andrew Jackson of Western Kentucky.
Andrew Jackson is a two-time All-Sun Belt player. He has ideal size for a middle linebacker at 6-foot-1, 254 pounds. Jackson started 10 games in 2013, recording 96 total tackles, which was second-best on the team. Also, 8.5 of those tackles were for a loss of yardage. Jackson has started for three seasons and had his best year as a junior in 2012 when he recorded 122 total tackles, 17.5 TFL, 4 FF and 2 sacks.
At the Combine, Jackson didn't run as fast as he would have liked to. He was clocked at 4.82 in the 40-yard dash, but he looked strong in drills and he tested well in the bench press and vertical jump. Jackson is an athletic linebacker. He's not fast in running down running backs but he's quick with his decisions. His play recognition is very good and he reacts well to play action. He's a solid tackler, one of the best of the linebacker prospects.
There are concerns about Jackson's character and work ethic. He was suspended by coach Bobby Petrino last October for violating team rules. Jackson only missed one game but it's still noteworthy that he did something to violate the rules of the team. NFL scouts will be aware of this suspension, but it shouldn't make a difference as to where Jackson is drafted.
Jackson's strength lies in his ability to tackle in the open field. He's a sure tackler and a hard-hitting one at that. He's athletic but he lacks the speed required to chase down ballcarriers all over the field. Jackson can stop plays before they start behind the line of scrimmage and he is well-versed in forcing fumbles. He has a great football IQ and recognizes plays well enough for a backup middle linebacker. He has some potential and can definitely improve as a player at the next level. He's worth taking a shot on in the 6th or 7th round because the potential is there.