WSJ great Jackson moves on to NFL’s Falcons
Published 11:45 pm Friday, March 28, 2014
By RYAN ARENA
LAPLACE — Fans of former West St. John and LSU standout Tyson Jackson have seen him make many transitions, from high school to college to the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs.
They’ll see Jackson change uniforms again this coming season — and they’ll also, likely, see a lot more of Jackson.
The now-former Chief defensive end signed a free agent contract recently with the Atlanta Falcons, where Jackson will become a part of the heated NFC South rivalry between the Falcons and hometown New Orleans Saints.
“I’m on Cloud Nine right now,” said Jackson. “I feel blessed at this opportunity.”
Jackson was a leader on the West St. John championship football teams of 2003 and 2004, as well as LSU’s BCS National Championship effort in 2008.
He leaves Kansas City after helping to anchor a rebuilding effort that resulted in the Chiefs making one of the more sudden turnarounds in NFL history, improving their 2-14 record from the 2012-13 season to finish 11-5 in 2013-14, including a berth in the AFC playoffs as a Wildcard participant.
But when it came time for the offseason, Jackson found himself a free agent for the first time in his five-year NFL career.
He said it wasn’t a whirlwind, city to city grand tour: Jackson appraised the lay of the land through his agent and judged the offers from there.
“I really made no visits at all,” said Jackson. “Cleveland, Tennessee, Miami and Washington all had interest (along with Atlanta). But looking at it from business perspective, the best offer financially and situationally was with the Falcons. I felt like I’d fit real well into their defensive scheme.”
The Falcons apparently felt this as well. Jackson reportedly signed a five-year deal that could see him earn as much as $25 million.
Much as he was when he was drafted third overall by the Chiefs in the 2009 NFL Draft, Jackson was targeted because he fit the profile of a strong 3-4 defensive end. At 6-foot-4-inches and 296 pounds, Jackson is big and strong enough to hold his ground at the point of attack against the league’s top offensive lineman and double teams. In 2009, the Chiefs were moving to a 3-4 under then defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
Now, the Falcons appear to be making the same shift under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who has seen much success with that alignment throughout his career.
Jackson said he feels his effectiveness against the run is what has attracted teams to him as a potential 3-4 anchor.
“It’s not a glamorous position as far as racking up stats,” said Jackson. “Last year I got a few more opportunities to rush the passer and make some plays in that area. But the one thing I’ve always taken pride in is that I’m extremely physical, especially against the run.”
Martin Sylvain, a long time West St. John coach and educator, is someone Jackson counts among his mentors and close friends.
Sylvain said he’s thrilled to see the 27-year-old Rams legend both earn a new deal and become a part of the Falcons/Saints rivalry.
“Now, we get to witness Tyson as he matures on a team that is the Saints primary rival. I truly believe that this is an excellent move for Tyson,” said Sylvain. “Not only did it bring him closer to home, but it also put him on a team that may reach the NFL’s ultimate contest, the Super Bowl.”
Sylvain and his wife often made trips to go see Jackson play in Kansas City and joked that while he’ll miss the fans there, “We won’t miss the frigid weather.”
“I give thanks to God for blessing me to be a part of Tyson’s life from an early age until now,” said Sylvain. “I’ve seen him through many transitions and this latest move to Atlanta is thrilling.”
Jackson comes off one of his best statistical seasons, with 34 combined tackles, four sacks and three pass deflections.
He said leaving Kansas City, especially with the team on an upswing, was a difficult choice.
He said he continues to train with a number of now former teammates who he’s become close with.
“Some of us have built a bond that’ll last a lifetime,” said Jackson.
But he is excited to join the Falcons, and said that he’s gearing up for the tough competition in the NFC South. Last season saw both the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers win reach the playoffs with at least 11 wins. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a new, well-respected coach in Lovie Smith and have overhauled their roster.
And while the Falcons struggled to a 4-12 record, the team is only a season removed from being the NFC’s top-seeded team and just a few yards away from reaching the Super Bowl.
For Jackson, it may take some adjustment to playing on the other side of the Saints/Falcons rivalry.
That said, he’s got a bit of a streak going for him that’s sure to stir up mixed emotions in local fans: Jackson is undefeated in the Superdome. He’s never lost a game there, from his two state championship victories with West St. John to his Chiefs’ 2012 visit to New Orleans, where Kansas City captured a come-from-behind 27-24 win in overtime.
He let out a hearty laugh when reminded of his unbeaten run in the Saints’ home stadium.
“You know, I really hadn’t thought about that,” he said.
“But hey, I plan on keeping it that way.”