Branden Jackson’s winding journey to the NFL
Branden Jackson may be a defensive end for the Oakland Raiders now, but only because he wanted a free car in high school.
Well, maybe the free car his mom promised him is only part of why he’s now earning a living playing professional football, but it’s funny how things work sometimes.
It’s safe to say teenage Branden Jackson didn’t see himself being an NFL player down the road.
“In high school, it never crossed my mind,” Jackson said in an interview with The Game Haus. “I just wanted to get a free car.”
Jackson was promised a free car if he made it to college and got a free ride while doing it. That was the conception of Jackson’s motivation to being a football player.
In his family, football wasn’t the token sport. His family was known for being more successful on the basketball front.
College Teams Come Calling
When college programs began showing more interest in Jackson for his decorated young football career than his basketball talents, he figured it might be time to shift his time from the hardwood to the gridiron.
When offers from Texas Tech, Michigan State and 14 other Division I offers came in, Jackson knew playing big time college football was within his reach. However, an NFL career didn’t cross the four-star recruit’s mind.
Jackson committed to Texas Tech as a defensive hybrid with experience on the defensive line and at linebacker. Jackson also saw time at tight end in high school.
In Jackson’s redshirt-sophomore season, he had a breakout game on one of his biggest stages. Jackson said the game, the Holiday Bowl against Arizona State, was a springboard for the rest of his career.
“I had a good season and it was probably like my breakout game” Jackson said. “It was kinda what turned heads and jumpstarted the rest of my career.”
Jackson didn’t just put his name on the map for NFL scouts in the game. He also made his case to turn into the team’s best deep-threat.
Arizona State called a read option, and the exchange was fumbled. After making an attempt for the ball and missing, Jackson found himself way behind.
“I retrace and end up catching him about 20 or 30 yards down the field,” Jackson said. “I had ran past our starting safety and our starting corner. I tackled him and it kinda just showed how fast I am.”
Jackson didn’t let his impressive acceleration go unnoticed. The defensive hybrid pleaded with his coaches to give him some time on offense after the game.
“I kept telling my coach red zone is my game,” Jackson said. “I did it in high school. Put me in at tight end or receiver and in the red zone I guarantee a jump ball. You can throw it underhand if you want to, and I’ll go get it.”
That game caused Jackson to fall in love with the sport. He said that was when his visions of playing at the highest level first came.
Branden Jackson’s Draft Experience
Jackson’s dreams had to be put on hold after he was left untouched in the 2016 NFL Draft. Jackson was expecting to be taken around the sixth round.
“When it didn’t come, I thought everyone doesn’t get drafted, that’s not my goal,” Jackson said. “I thought I would get a guaranteed priority free agent deal.”
Jackson received calls from multiple teams asking him to try out. He turned down five or six teams before reluctantly accepting gigs from Seattle and Oakland.
Although he was cut from the active roster during the preseason, Oakland struck a deal with the former Red Raider to join the practice squad.
Jackson remained on the practice squad for most of the season. Being on the opposite side of the country from his mother became emotionally taxing. The practice squad player continued to plug away with the Raiders and decided to fly his mother out to Oakland late in the year.
During that same week, Jackson got promoted to the 53-man active roster.
Branden Jackson on the Raiders’ Season
Oakland took the NFL by storm last season. A perennially underwhelming franchise since 2002, the Raiders found the NFL Playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons.
The team had an elite quarterback, suitable offensive weapons, a good line and a solid defense across the board. Oakland finished 12-4, but lost Derek Carr for the rest of the season due to a broken leg in week 16.
Carr had dislocated his thumb earlier in the year, giving all of Raider Nation a scare. Carr sprinted into the locker room, got his thumb back to “normal” and entered the game quickly. Jackson and his teammates expected Carr’s leg injury to be small like that.
Jackson said he expected an inspiring speech in the locker room after the game from Carr. Instead, the team learned Carr’s fate.
Oakland entered the playoffs with a backup quarterback who was far from Carr’s caliber.
The Raiders lost an underwhelming game to the Houston Texans, a team that was known by many as the worst team in the playoffs.
Even so, Jackson considered the season to be a success, saying they won more games than most teams in the NFL.
The Move to Las Vegas
The Oakland Raiders franchise announced it would move to Las Vegas on March 27. Although Raiders fans in and around Oakland were baffled and enraged, Jackson doesn’t think the move is a big deal.
“I really didn’t put too much thought into it because Raider Nation is Raider Nation,” Jackson said. “When we go to Vegas, the fans will still be crazy.”
Jackson pointed to the true loyalty of Raider fans multiple times during the interview. Even though he’s been with the club for one year, he’s already felt the love Raider Nation has for its people. That said, he expects fans to continue to be tenacious with their support.
“It would be un-Raider like for our fans to not be the way they’ve always been,” Jackson said.
So, what’s with jackson’s car situation?
Because Jackson earned a free ride to Texas Tech, his mother followed through on her promise. Jackson received a Caprice Classic for about $1,500. He loved the car until death did them part.
“I drove it literally until it blew up,” Jackson said.
When Jackson became a starter at Texas Tech, his father gifted him a 1972 Lincoln Continental. Jackson continues to drive that car to this day.
Of course, Jackson’s love for the game has replaced his desire for material gifts to continue playing football. However, The Game Haus will keep you updated on any changes with his car driving status.
Oh, and we’ll update you on his football playing days as well.
Branden Jackson Scouting Report
Branden Jackson has good size at 6-foot-4, 268 pounds. He played as a 3-4 defensive end at Texas Tech, but now plays as a 4-3 defensive end for the Oakland Raiders. His versatility is a major asset.
He has good strength that he uses to shed blockers and get to ball carriers. For a defensive end, which is a position mostly reserved for good pass rushers, he is good against the run. His good gap discipline helps him be effective against the run and he can even take on double teams from opposing blockers.
His strength is his main asset when rushing the passer too, as he fends off blockers. Against scrambling quarterbacks, he is good at containing them in the pocket.