Big ole boys up front y'all.
Iowa Western CC defensive tackle Merrick Jackson III committed to the Golden Gophers last night, becoming the 15th prospect in a class reshaped by new head coach Tracy Claeys. Originally signing with the Illini out of high school, Jackson is a 3 star prospect according the the 247 Industry Composite with listed offers from Illinois, Iowa State, Southern Miss, Troy, and UAB. Merrick will be eligible for spring practice as a December graduate from Iowa Western, providing much need talent and depth at the defensive tackle position heading into 2016. Jackson reportedly held offers from the Illini, Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri as a high school prospect. He'll have two years to play at Minnesota.
Minnesota has the 47th ranked class according to the 247Sports Industry Composite, good for 10th in the Big Ten.
Gopher Digest's Ryan Burns with Jackson on why he committed to Minnesota ($):
"Overall, the biggest reason why I decided on Minnesota was because I felt more comfortable with their players on my visit," Jackson explained to GopherDigest. "I felt like I could go to either Minnesota or Iowa State and be successful, but how I felt while on my visit to Minnesota is what I keep coming back to and that's why I chose Minnesota. The players there just gave me a good vibe and some I've known and the other ones I met all seemed like good people."
Jackson was a prospect that flashed some promise coming out of HS. Looks to have worked to make some needed improvements and still flashes some promise. Needs to watch size and limited eligibility remains, but big man with some tools to still help an FBS program in the trenches.
(Likely Fraudulent) Measurables**
** The section title is a bit. It's an intentionally facetious comment on how recruiting sites (and even some college coaches) notoriously exaggerate traditional combine measures -- especially the 40. No offense is meant.
Weight: 305-340 lbs.
Big 4 Ratings:
Senior year highlights:
Jackson is atypical of defensive tackles in the Kill/Claeys era, as the staff values athleticism and speed up front, and are willing to sacrifice size in order to field a gap disruptor versus a gap clogger. DTs they've previously recruited were in the 280-290 lbs. range, or had a frame to grow. Not since Ra'Shede Hageman was the last tackle earning regular playing time over 300 lbs., and he was a freak. Really, Jackson is more like a former Brewster-era defensive tackle, and an infamous one at that: Jewhan Edwards.
Despite his wide base and considerable bulk, Jackson does fit into Claeys/Sawvel/Phelp's scheme because he's incredibly disruptive when he gives max effort and fires low off the snap. His initial quickness generates power allowing him to penetrate gaps, where he uses his size as advantage to gain leverage over guards & centers who can't move him off his spot. Minnesota's scheme requires defensive tackles occupy blockers as a function of disruption versus primary assignment; guards and centers accounting for tackles knifing at the line of scrimmage allows the linebackers to flow downhill, versus a gap-clog scheme where linebackers would flow to the alleys. In that regard, Jackson more than succeeds at beating offensive linemen on his own, and can generate pass pressure up the middle.
Jackson next to current Gopher Steven Richardson would provide offenses with a number of matchup problems, as both can beat guards & centers to disrupt gaps and blow up plays in the backfield. Conditioning may be a concern for Merrick along with consistent effort, but gets negated by Claeys' hockey line shifts along the defensive line. If Sawvel and Phelps can get a max effort Jackson in 40-45 plays a game, he could maximize his potential and improve the defensive line performance immensely.
Impact on Other Prospects?
Merrick's commitment fills an immediate need for depth at defensive tackle, so the focus will now turn to adding an impact DE/DT from the high school ranks. Chicagoland's Amir Watts is the top target, though the Gophers face stiff competition from Nebraska and Northwestern for his services.