Lynch, 49ers need Jackson to take big step next season


INDIANAPOLIS — With six defensive linemen set to become free agents, 49ers general manger John Lynch is expecting Drake Jackson to make a huge jump next season.

“Drake Jackson needs to take a big step in Year 2,” Lynch said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We know that he has that in him. He’s got to have a terrific offseason.”

For many players entering their rookie season, the time before the NFL draft is spent preparing for the tests at the combine and their pro days, as opposed to getting into “football shape.” Lynch saw a lot of great qualities from Jackson, but he has higher expectations for the ex-USC star's second season.

Jackson appeared in 15 games as a rookie, but he was inactive for two out of the last three regular-season contests and all three playoff games. Lynch believes Jackson, whom as a second-round pick was the 49ers' first draftee last year, will be better equipped for his second season after a full offseason of preparation.

“Drake has a lot in his body,” Lynch said. “He’s really a unique athlete. He also has shown — I think a lot of people assume that we were really disappointed when he wasn’t suiting up. That wasn’t it. Because even when he did go in in limited snaps, he would always make about two plays a game, whether it would be a batted ball or chasing down an escaping quarterback."

Jackson recorded three sacks, one interception, eight solo tackles — three for a loss -- six quarterback hits and eight pass breakups in 315 defensive snaps. Lynch wants to see Jackson build up his strength during the offseason, and that will come by working with the team's nutritional staff and strength and conditioning coaches.

Technically, NFL rules state that only players going through injury rehabilitation can work directly with the team staff before the start of OTAs. The staff can, however, build a workout plan for any athlete, and post it in the gym where players will have access.

“You got to play with power in this league,” Lynch said. “He needs to get a little stronger. That takes a real offseason. The good thing is we have our exit meetings and we talk about — these guys, it’s their choice whether they train here or train some place else.

“We like our strength coach and we like our program, and we like our eyes on these guys. Drake made the choice to be back here. He’s been back for about a week. That fires me up, because it’s what he needs. He needs a great offseason.”

Another player Lynch is counting on to play a bigger role is defensive tackle Kalia Davis. The University of Central Florida product spent his first NFL season on the non-football injury list, recovering from an ACL injury he suffered in October 2021. The 49ers opened the rookie’s practice window on Dec. 20, but he never was activated.

“Kalia Davis, you know, our team is counting on him,” Lynch said. “A lot of people don’t even know who he is. We put a sixth-round draft pick because we really liked his traits. He came back late in the year and practiced. We believe he can help us, but he’s got to go show that he can.”

Both young linemen have Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead as valuable resources and examples to follow. When Jackson was on the field during his first training camp, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year was impressed by the rookie’s “bend.” Bosa even said Jackson could do things as a rookie that he could not.

“I think he’s shown us that he has a really cool instinct, and feel to his game as well,” Lynch said. “I don’t want to put too much on him. He’s got to go make it happen, but I do really believe he has a bright future in front of him.”

RELATED: One impressive Jackson trait caught Bosa by surprise

Both Jackson and Davis have their work cut out to become key 49ers contributors in their second NFL seasons.

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