Jaylon Jackson is Running With Dri Archer
Eastern Michigan's first-year transfer return specialist is the nation's leader, and is getting close to Dri Archer's record.
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Chris Creighton knew what he saw when the tape rolled. Jaylon Jackson’s speed, quickness, and overall dynamic ability to own the moment of a football game were obvious, and there’s some of that ‘it’ factor in him if you watch closely enough.
What’s more obvious, before you get to experience any of Jackson’s football talent is his size. Listed at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Jackson is always the smallest guy on the field but he tends to make some of the biggest plays when he’s out there. In Jackson’s second season at Lamar, he recorded 309 yards rushing, 115 receiving, and 148 on kick returns. For long plays, Jackson recorded a 42-yard rush, 33-yard catch, and 42-yard return.
“There was enough to see that he was really good and he is tough. I mean he took a bit of a pounding, but he always sprung right back up and he still does that today at Eastern Michigan,” said Creighton Monday. “He is what we hoped he'd be.
“He's not the biggest guy on our team, but he's tough.”
When Creighton had recruited Jackson while he was in the transfer portal over the spring, he knew what he was watching. Individually, the talent is in him, but the trick is figuring out how to make sure things pan out on gamedays.
So far it seems like things have panned out just fine for the junior out of Burleson, Texas.
Through his first six games in at Eastern Michigan, Jackson has returned just nine kicks, but he’s been avoided more times than that. With those nine returns he’s racked up 323 return yards for an average of 35.9 — that’s the #1 mark in the nation.
Jackson has already become one of the most dangerous return specialists, not just in the nation, but in Mid-American Conference history too. Since 2000, only *six MAC players have finished their seasons with an average of at least 30 yards per return: Dri Archer in 2012 for Kent State (36.9) and Eric Page for Toledo in 2010 (31.1).
Archer captured the MAC record for return yard average in 2012 when he was in his fourth year with Kent State. Archer went on to win MAC Special Teams Player of the Year honors that season and helped Kent State reach its first-ever MAC Championship game in Detroit, 40 years after the Flashes last (the only time it) won the league title.
(*Well, seven players technically. In the three games during Ohio’s pandemic-shortened year of 2020, DeMontre Tuggle technically recorded the highest average at 45.0, but that came on 4 returns for 180 yards in, again, just three games.)
MAC Players with kick return average of 30+ yards since 2000
2012, Dri Archer (Kent State): 16 ret., 591 yards (36.9 avg.), 3 TD
2022, Jaylon Jackson (EMU): 9 ret., 323 yards (35.9 avg.), 1 TD
2002, Tyron Walker (WMU): 13 ret., 426 yards (32.8 avg.), 2 TD
2008, Travis Shelton (Temple): 23 ret., 720 yards (31.3 avg.), 1 TD
2007 Bryan Williams (Akron): 21 ret., 670 yards (31.9 avg.), 1 TD
2010, Eric Page (Toledo): 28 ret., 871 yards (31.1 avg.), 3 TD
2006, David Harvey (Akron): 17 ret., 510 yards (30.0 avg.)
In his first game with his new team, Jackson’s first time touching the football came on a kick return against Eastern Kentucky, down 3-0 after the Colonels made a field goal. Jackson fielded the kickoff and sprinted so fast downfield that EKU linebacker Matthew Jackson had to get Jaylon Jackson from behind and grabbed his horse collar. With the penalty, Jackson’s 35-yard return had an added 15 yards on top of that to move EMU to midfield. The great field position helped EMU get its first score of the season, and eventually came away with the win.
After Jackson had three returns for 4, 14, and 22 yards at Louisiana and none at Arizona State, Jackson made Buffalo think twice about kicking to him again.
The Bulls got on the board with its game-opening drive, they let Jackson immediately tie it up with an 89-yard return for a touchdown. Jackson erroneously waved for a fair catch when Samson Evans fielded a kick on the other side of the field on Buffalo’s next kickoff, then made up for it with a 34-yard return on his next opportunity. From then on, Buffalo refused to kick his way. The next four kickoff attempts all avoided Jackson’s half of the field, and let Zach Mowchan field fair catches around the EMU 30-or-so-yard line.
The UMass game was so low-scoring that Jackson only had one return for 19 yards, then almost beat his already-impressive personal-best at Kalamazoo. Following a WMU touchdown in the second half on Saturday, Jackson returned a kick for 87 yards and almost finished with a touchdown, but he was ultimately, eventually, brought down from behind and inside the red zone.
Jackson’s climbed up the depth chart on running back to be a secondary option to Evans, who leads the MAC in rushing yards (630). Jackson’s smaller and had more of the speed dynamic, but by no means should he be labeled a “scat” back. Jackson’s not afraid to sprint through an A-gap, and when somebody three times his size brings him down, Jackson wastes no time bouncing right back up.
Running the ball this year, Jackson is doing so at 5.4 yards per carry — 172 yards on 32 carries, a long of 26 yards.
Of Jackson’s seven receptions, his longest went for 13 yards (52 yards total, 7.4 avg.).
In just six games at the FBS level, Jackson is 11th in the MAC (second on the team) with 547 total all-purpose yards this season.
Leading up to last week’s Western game, I asked Creighton how important it was for him to not just have a very skilled player on offense to help out in the running back room, but what his talents mean specifically to the rest of the special teams unit.
Creighton responded, “I think there's just a sense of excitement, anticipation. I think that permeates through everybody on the unit, knowing that #28's gonna have a returnable kick, I'm gonna block the best that I can knowing that there's a real chance that something can develop here.”