We had the privilege of interviewing Branden here at Matt and Mike Sports (interview available here). Branden's on the field performance is out-shined only by his character and drive off the field. Branden Jackson developed into an NFL-caliber defensive end while making the switch from OLB to DE in college. For many players, that is the most adversity that they will face throughout their college career. For Jackson, that challenge pales in comparison to the challenges off the field.
Branden Jackson lost his step brother Chauncey Williams in 2013, and had to make a tough decision to remain on campus rather than to attend his funeral. Following Chauncey's death, Branden changed his uniform number to 9, in his words to "honor him and every other kid who was taken too soon." Branden Jackson is a man who has faced some of the toughest situations that a young man can face, and he thrived. Rather than turn bitter following a childhood in a tough neighborhood, Branden worked hard to get an education and work his way out of his neighborhood. He has emerged from his college career as a classy, hard-working, and extremely talented young man. Much like gold is perfected in the refiner's fire, Branden Jackson has thrived under pressure of the hardest kind.
Branden Jackson credits his toughness to his grandmother, Shelia Alston. In our interview, Jackson described his grandmother as follows:
"My biggest role model would have to be my grandmother Shelia Alston. She's birthed 4 kids and raised an additional 12 foster kids. As if that was not enough she contributed to raising more grand kids then I can't think of. Through it all I've never heard her complain despite her battle with diabetes and kidney failure. She is the rock of my family, she embodies everything that I am and strive to be. I believe that's where I get my core from, my grit and my toughness."
She is clearly a special woman, and Branden Jackson has developed into a special man who any grandparent would be proud of. If he could choose one thing to accomplish in his career, it would be winning the Walter Peyton NFL Man of the Year Award, because, as he states in our interview, Branden wants to use his career to help unfortunate youth in his hometown of McKeesport PA and raising awareness for diabetes. For Branden, receiving that award would mean that his efforts are being noticed, and that he is potentially contributing to saving somebody's life. This is clearly a classy, extremely high character athlete that would be an absolute asset to any NFL roster.
But what about on the field? Branden has a deep understanding of defensive schemes, and is an extremely hard worker on the field and in the film room. He is adept at reading offenses both on film and on the field. The instincts he has developed while playing linebacker show whenever he is on the field. Let's take a look at him as a player on the field.
Branden Jackson is an extremely intelligent player on the field and goes 100% on every play. Unlike some prospects who "take plays off," Branden Jackson plays every snap like it is his last. His deep knowledge of offensive and defensive schemes make him a patient, saavy defender who waits for the perfect moment to strike. Watching Branden Jackson, you see a player with a deep understanding of what an offense is doing. His tackling skills are fundamentally sound, and he is a versatile player who is able to play multiple positions in a defensive front. This makes him an asset to defensive coordinators since he will be useful in multiple personnel packages. Here's some film.
He has generated some nice numbers on the field as well. As a college player, Jackson generated 138 tackles 11 sacks, 24 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. One of those fumble recoveries was returned for a touchdown. His measurables are solid as well, and he tested well at his Pro Day and at the Combine; his top Pro Day numbers include a 4.87 40, a 4.55 20 yard dash, and a 7.06 3 cone drill, which nicely augment his 31.5 inch vertical jump, 9.5 broad jump and 20 bench press reps at the Combine. At worst, he's a rotational player in the NFL as he continues to develop and a very strong locker room presence. At best, he's much much more.
Branden Jackson's greatest selling point as a player, however, is not his numbers. It is not even just his broad knowledge and understanding of the game. In "The Replacements," when coach Jimmy McGinty is asked at halftime what his team needs in order to turn around a game filled with adversity, his response is "miles and miles of heart." Branden Jackson can bring miles and miles of heart to the table every day of the week. He is an extremely mature young man who has faced more adversity in 23 years than many people do in a life-time, and has emerged as a potential star. At the beginning of the highlight reel I posted earlier, Branden Jackson says that there is "nothing more dangerous than a man who's soul is on fire." Jackson has the talent, the passion, the character, and the drive to set the NFL on fire. Here at Matt and Mike Sports, we're rooting for him!