The biggest news of the 2019-20 offseason for Pitt football was the return of draft-eligible underclassmen Paris Ford, Patrick Jones and Jaylen Twyman and the Panthers getting a fifth year of eligibly for Damar Hamlin.
Those retentions mean that it’s going to be a relatively sparse crowd for Pitt in the 2020 NFL Draft pool.
There’s no question that Pitt’s top prospect is cornerback Dane Jackson. But it hasn’t been clear exactly where Jackson, a three-year starter with the Panthers, stands in relation to the rest of the draft board.
Some early mock drafts have him going in the fourth or fifth round. WalterFootball.com rated him between a fourth and sixth round selection.
But last week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, Jackson was one of the players that seemed to impress scouts the most.
Donnie Druin of Sports Illustrated was at the Senior Bowl and gave PSN this scouting report on Jackson:
“Going into the week, I think Dane put a lot on his personal plate. With schools like Alabama and Notre Dame sporting a handful of players at the Senior Bowl, Jackson played with the mentality of, ‘hey, I’m the only guy representing Pitt, I need to show out’ and that’s what he did.
“First impressions are big, and Jackson found himself as a winner after a tremendous first day. One-on-one drills are set up for the receiver to win, especially against a player like Jackson, who mostly excels in a zone scheme. Out of the six one-on-one reps I counted, Jackson won four of six, with one of two completions coming with damn good coverage. From there, you saw his name floating around as a potential riser.
“The second day was a different story. Jackson was worked during the one-on-one drills, and if the receiver didn’t catch it, flags were on the field from the officials at practice for defensive holding or pass interference. A big part of Jackson’s game requires him to be physical pr grabby towards receivers, which will definitely draw flags at the next level if he gets beat.
“In team drills, Jackson fared well. I can’t recall any standout plays, but as a cornerback, that’s not necessarily a bad thing when your name isn’t called. After his first practice, I saw scouts from the Saints and Giants approach him. Players eventually meet with teams in form or another, but I did find that notable. Jackson was also voted as the south’s defensive cornerback of the week during practice, as he was voted as the best by the very receivers who worked against him every day.
“I’m not entirely sure where his draft stock was or is, but there’s no doubting he left Mobile as the best defensive back from Senior Bowl week, and his draft buzz has increased significantly.”
Druin wasn’t the only one that noticed Jackson. CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso said “it wasn’t easy completing a pass on Jackson all week.”
David Helman of DallasCowboys.com said Jackson “grabbed eye balls.”
USA Today’s Raiders Wire said he was “one of the best corners at the Senior Bowl.”
Jackson will be the top man in Pitt’s draft poll that also includes players like wide receivers Maurice Ffrench and Aaron Mathews and tight end Nakia Griffin-Stewart, who also played in senior all-star games.
But how high he will rise will depend on what happens over the next few months as he continues through the NFL Draft process.