In Michigan’s 35-16 Citrus Bowl loss to Alabama, freshman wide receiver Giles Jackson displayed the speed and change of direction that has helped him become a special teams' force in his young collegiate career with a field-reversing 50-yard return on the game’s opening kickoff and another 30-yard return in the second half.
With a team-best four catches for 57 yards (14.3 yards per reception) in the contest, he also displayed signs of the potential to become more than that.
Only the second player in program history to score a rushing, receiving and kickoff return touchdown during his freshman campaign, he was deemed an “ascending player” by head coach Jim Harbaugh in the bowl's post-game press conference, and he is the second Wolverine in a series comparing current players to a doppleganger from Michigan history.
Truthfully, this ascension started earlier in the season, specifically with a 97-yard sprint to pay dirt on the opening kickoff in U-M’s Nov. 2 win over Maryland.
While he handled Michigan's kickoff return duties throughout the season, Jackson was rarely utilized on offense and amassed only 25 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown prior to that contest. In the four games games that followed his scamper against the Terps, he stockpiled 186 yards on the offensive side of the ball, including a 22-yard touchdown run that gave the Wolverines a 7-0 lead over playoff-bound Ohio State Nov. 30.
At 5-9, 188 pounds, the California native may be deemed undersized by some, but so was former Michigan star Steve Breaston. Although it’s impossible to set an expectation for a player heading into his second year to match Breaston’s lofty career accomplishments, Jackson flashed glimpses of becoming that type of dynamic and versatile player as he evolved alongside first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’s offense.
Jackson may not be as tall as Breaston, who entered his fifth-year senior season at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, but he is sturdier, with the opportunity to put on additional weight, and the 4.43 40-yard dash he ran in high school is just a fraction slower than the 4.41 Breaston clocked at the 2007 NFL Combine.
Like Breaston, Jackson possesses more than just top-end speed, with a quick-twitch first step to create space quickly and an explosive shiftiness that makes him dangerous in space. His 138.36 SPARQ score at The Opening Finals in 2018 was the top offensive score at the ultra-competitive recruiting combine, including a 38-inch vertical jump and eye-popping 3.85 shuttle that both topped Breaston’s 33-inch vertical and 4.29 efforts at the 2007 NFL Combine.
Beyond the physical attributes, Breaston simply had a knack for making big plays - something Jackson has shown signs of, averaging 15.8 yards per reception, 6.9 yards per rush and gaining at least 20 yards on five of 19 offensive touches in 2019.
Both returned at least one kick to the house in their first season donning the Maize and Blue. Breaston scored twice on punt returns, averaged 13.8 yards per return on 45 tries, and 21.2 yards on nine kick returns over the course of the season. Jackson, who did not return punts as rookie, returned all but two kicks for the Wolverines in 2019 - 24 in total - and averaged 25.9 yards per attempt, including the aforementioned 97-yard touchdown return against Maryland.
Just as important as his explosiveness was Breaston’s consistency and reliability as a wideout, a facet of his game that was at times overlooked as he split catches with former Michigan standouts Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant, Mario Mannigham and Adrian Arrington throughout his career.
Despite dealing with loaded depth charts, Breaston's 156-career catches ranks sixth in program history and he finished his collegiate career with 1,696 receiving yards (10.9 yards per reception) and 10 touchdown grabs, in addition to 321 yards and two scores on the ground. Jackson has yet to show whether he can provide this kind of consistency to compliment his explosiveness, although his late-season usage indicates he will in the coming years.
Like Breaston, Jackson finds himself shuffled in a similarly-crowded receiving room, but he does have an advantage in U-M’s current offense, which should lend more opportunities to players of his skill set than former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr’s offensive philosophy did during Breaston's career from 2003-06.
What do you think? Who does Giles Jackson remind you of in the pantheon of Michigan football history?
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