In the 2021 CFL Draft, the B.C. Lions took a second-round swing on a blue-chip offensive lineman from Windsor, Ontario with the hopes that he would make his way back to Canada some day soon.
A year later, it appears that Alaric Jackson will not be donning the orange and black for a very long time. In fact, he’d very much like to grind those two colours into the dirt when he takes on the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday.
The Lions had every reason to suspect that Jackson’s NFL dreams might not pan out. Despite starting all 42 games he played during an outstanding career at left tackle for the University of Iowa, professional scouts had serious concerns. He was inconsistent in his effort at times and his pass protection left something to be desired. He struggled against other elite prospects during a week of practice at the prestigious Senior Bowl, even after moving to guard.
The result was that the Canadian fell all the way out of the 2021 NFL Draft, eventually signing with the Los Angeles Rams as an undrafted free agent. For some small school players, a UDFA contract can be a testament to how highly the NFL views them. In the case of an all-conference Power Five stalwart like Jackson, it meant the exact opposite.
Nine months later, he’s proven all the doubters wrong, becoming a valuable contributor on a Super Bowl team.
“Alaric Jackson is a young man who’s a rookie tackle who will be a really, really good football player soon in this league and I am so excited for the Los Angeles Rams that they were able to get him after the draft because I couldn’t think more of him,” future Hall of Fame left tackle and Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year winner Andrew Whitworth said during media availabilities in the lead up to the big game.
“It’s been fun being a mentor of his and I think he’s gonna be a really special one soon. It’s gonna be fun to watch his career and I can’t wait to be there with him.”
Jackson, who now goes by A.J., has been impressing Rams coaches and teammates since the start, beating long odds to make the 53-man roster out of training camp as an undrafted rookie. He’s mainly served as the team’s emergency lineman, inactive on gameday, but suited up in five contests, including the NFC Championship.
With the veteran Whitworth having earned himself plenty of practice rest days thanks to an illustrious career, Jackson’s teammates have seen more of him than his opponents, earning high praise from another future Hall of Famer.
“That’s like my sparring partner, we go against each other in practice every day. He’ll go to the right, I’ll go to the right. He’ll go to the left, I’ll go to the left. He’s a young star,” raved defensive end Von Miller, the Super Bowl 50 MVP.
“I think he’ll be a starter in this league, if not next year, the year after that. He doesn’t carry himself like a rookie. He definitely doesn’t play like a rookie. I love sparring against Alaric. I love practicing against him. He just has this competitive nature.”
The Canadian’s finest hour came in Week 16 against the Minnesota Vikings, when he came off the bench to save the day and protect Matthew Stafford’s blindside all the way to a 30-23 victory. With backup tackle Joseph Noteboom ruled out of the Super Bowl with injury, Jackson will again be the next man up in the most important game of the season, but the Rams are not worried.
“He’s a really impressive rookie. Doesn’t play like a rookie, doesn’t act like a rookie,” said left guard David Edwards. “I think he’s got a really bright future. He’s a great guy, a great teammate.”
If all goes well, Jackson’s contribution to a Super Bowl victory will be blocking for PATs. If something goes wrong, the undrafted rookie who crisscrossed the Detroit River as a child could be a determining factor in the Rams’ fate.
Either way, the B.C. Lions will be waiting for quite awhile longer.