Iowa football's Jestin Jacobs is receiving 2023 NFL Draft buzz. What's his 2022 season outlook?
The summer leading up to football season is a time for preseason accolades and honors. As expected, several Iowa defenders have received conference and nationwide recognition. Athletes like linebacker Jack Campbell and cornerback Riley Moss were a given but one name received perhaps some unexpected national acclaim: junior linebacker Jestin Jacobs.
He's Iowa's starting outside linebacker but because that position isn't within their base 4-2-5 set, he doesn't have the same usage rate at Campbell or other starting inside linebacker Seth Benson, an All-Big Ten selection himself. Jacobs' 53 tackles last season were less than half of Benson and Campbell, who each eclipsed the 100 tackle mark.
Still, Jacobs is held in high regard nationally and especially on NFL Draft boards. Pro Football Focus rated him as the No. 9 overall draft-eligible linebacker prospect in next year's draft, six spots behind Campbell.
Jacobs isn't too big into preseason hype, but it is validation of his hard work from a sub-200 pound incoming freshman in 2019 to a 240-pound athletic specimen.
"I definitely saw it; it's pretty cool," Jacobs said. "Mainly I say just for like my friends and family back home. Some of them don't understand like everything that goes into football. Seeing something like that it lets them know how much I'm improving and how much I'm working."
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For now Jacobs is working his way back from an injury that sidelined him for all of spring practice. His volume is increasing and is expected to be full-go during fall camp.
What does the 2022 season have in store? That's the big question.
Jacobs showcased his ability throughout last season. He forced the fumble that led to a crucial Jack Campbell scoop-and-score touchdown against Iowa State. He only missed four tackles on 57 opportunities and allowed only one touchdown in pass coverage; an impressive feat considering Iowa's outside linebackers' coverage responsibilities include slot wide receivers.
Will Jacobs role expand in 2022? That's a question for defensive coordinator Phil Parker and linebackers coach Seth Wallace.
But Jacobs hopes that's the case.
"It's definitely something I want," Jacobs said. "I just want to be out there with my team playing in a variety of different positions, whatever that can help the defense out. So I'm definitely excited, maybe to get a bigger role in this upcoming year."
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Jacobs is one part of a trio that headlines arguably Iowa's strongest position: linebacker. He understands that it's not an easy decision when he's often sidelined when they're in 4-2-5 but naturally there's some frustration with a limited role.
"Obviously it can be frustrating at times, just as a competitor," Jacobs said. "You always want to be out there on every play. But you also have to realize we're a team. It's all about what's best for the team, what's best for this scenario. So I just just stay focused on the task at hand. Realizing that when I'm in, just go 100% and do what I can. And the better I play, the more I'll be in."
In today's college football landscape, a player of Jacobs' status could've considered transferring to find a bigger role elsewhere. He would have been in high demand among major Power 5 teams.
He never considered that thought.
"Oh, no, that was wasn't the case," Jacobs said. "I always planned on coming back here. The thing about Iowa is I've just seen constant improvement as a player (and) as a person over the years. I just couldn't see myself really leaving that because I've built what I built so far here. It wouldn't seemed right just giving it all up."
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Benson, Campbell and Jacobs all missed spring practice to injury, therefore Wallace couldn't experiment with them in different positions. Wallace said during spring practice that a bigger role for Jacobs would help limit Benson and Campbell's wear and tear.
"I personally need to do a better job of just finding the right fit," Wallace said during spring. "Because what you don't want is to run the race with 900 and some snaps into it or whatever it was that Jack had this past year. I just don't know that you want to constantly do that."
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Fall camp will be an opportunity to explore those possibilities with all three linebackers back healthy. For Jacobs, his only set goal this fall "handling his own business." He hopes it'll lead to that expanded role and as a result, postseason recognition.
"Just showing that I can make plays within the defense on the inside and outside," Jacobs said. "So just showing that I'm a versatile player and I can do a lot more. I'm more than just an athlete, I got like a little bit of brains in the game too. So I definitely just want to showcase a little bit everything."
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.