On March 6th, the Indianapolis Colts signed former Cleveland Browns ILB D’Qwell Jackson to a four-year, $22 million dollar contract ($11M being guaranteed). Jackson, 30, has been highly regarded throughout NFL circles, as one of the most consistent ILB’s over the past several years. D’Qwell Jackson is quite frankly a tackling machine. He finished 7th in the NFL out of all defenders in combined tackles at 141 tackles, which placed him 2nd among all 3-4 ILB’s (Note: San Francisco 49ers’ stalwart NaVorro Bowman led all 3-4 ILB’s with 145 combined tackles). Additionally, he has been commended formerly as one of the leaders of the Cleveland Browns’ defense and was a player that is universally respected by his former coaches and teammates alike. Lastly, Jackson is durable, having started all 16 games in each of the past 3 seasons, playing what is one of the most physically demanding positions in the NFL.
So what’s not to like? Many NFL experts think that the smaller Jackson at 6’0″ and 240 lbs. would be better suited playing inside on a 4-3 defense, rather than the Colts’ 3-4 defense. The difference being that in a 4-3 defense, the linebackers at the second level are better protected by having an extra down defensive lineman to absorb blocks and don’t have to work through as much “trash” (i.e. free offensive lineman or a fullback) in order to make tackles. The naked eye would indicate that Jackson fared just fine last year playing in Cleveland’s 3-4 defense given his prolific tackling numbers, but that may not be the clear case upon further investigation.
Our friends at ProFootballFocus.com (PFF) indicate that D’Qwell Jackson struggled badly against the run last season. On a Colts’ team that had the 7th worst rush defense, this may be cause for alarm. Out of all MLB’s (including 4-3), Jackson ranked 49th out of the 55 qualifying linebackers. Yes, this is even below Colts’ ILB’s Pat Angerer (39th) and Kelvin Sheppard (43rd), the players he will assuredly replace in the starting lineup. Does this mean that this was a bad signing? Absolutely not. Jackson will hopefully bring what the 55th worst linebacker on that list, London Fletcher, often brought… consistency. It’s not that the prior incumbents in Angerer and Sheppard were just atrocious defenders for the Colts in 2013, it’s just they were wildly inconsistent (or in Angerer’s case, injured). The team really didn’t know what they were going to get on a week in and week out basis on Sunday. The hope is that Jackson can provide the durability, consistency, and leadership that they so desperately needed on their defense to pair on the inside with Jackson’s new partner in crime, ILB Jerrell Freeman.
NOTE: According to PFF, D’Qwell Jackson graded out middle of the pack against the pass, ranking 26th out of the 55 qualifiers, ahead of Sheppard (31st) and Angerer (37th), and even Freeman (45th). This marks a clear upgrade to the Colts’ defense in our linebacker coverage ability in 2014.
Fans expecting Chuck Pagano to have signed “Ray Lewis Jr.” are going to be sorely disappointed. However, like the aforementioned Lewis, Jackson should provide much needed leadership and consistency to our 3-4 defense in 2014. The fact his former head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Rob Chudzinski, was recently hired to be Chuck Pagano’s special assistant may be a big reason as to why he’s now wearing the horseshoe. Jackson was apparently miffed at Chudzinski’s firing while with the Browns, and Chudzinski has spoken nothing but praise for Jackson at every opportunity. There appears to be a lot of mutual respect there and the fine makings of a player, coach relationship already established within the Colts’ organization. Fingers point that D’Qwell will excel, but it will be one of the interesting topics to note as we get closer to the start of the 2014 NFL season for the Colts.