USC left tackle Austin Jackson announces he will enter NFL draft

Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa, left, goes against USC offensive tackle Austin Jackson during the first half of the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27, 2019, in San Diego.
Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa, left, works against USC offensive tackle Austin Jackson during the first half of the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27, 2019, in San Diego.
(Orlando Ramirez / Associated Press)

Austin Jackson, the anchor of an improved USC offensive line last season, is off to the NFL.

The junior left tackle announced on social media that he will forgo his final season of eligibility at USC and declare for the draft.


“USC has truly been such a special place to call home for the last three years,” Jackson wrote. “Thank you to the boys on this team. I couldn’t imagine a better group to have played with. It’s been an honor to be a part of this incredible Trojan brotherhood and to go to war with you guys every day.”

Last fall, before he was named to the All-Pac-12 first team in his final season at USC, it was unclear when Jackson would even be ready to join the team. Jackson, a Phoenix native, spent most of the summer awaiting word on when he could donate bone marrow to his younger sister, Autumn, who suffers from the rare genetic disorder Diamond Blackfan Anemia.

Jackson underwent surgery in July and was back for fall camp less than a month later. He proceeded to lead a turnaround along USC’s offensive line that helped his draft stock skyrocket.

Before USC athletic director Mike Bohn can make a decision on football and coach Clay Helton, he has to clean out the athletic department. The process started Tuesday.

The 6-foot-6, 310-pound lineman’s departure leaves a gaping hole on the left side of the Trojans’ offensive line. With graduate transfer right tackle Drew Richmond out of eligibility, USC will now have to replace both of its starting offensive tackles next season. If Alijah Vera-Tucker makes a surprise decision to follow Jackson into the draft, the offense could be in dire straits up front.

Jalen McKenzie, who started last season at right guard, and Liam Jimmons, who impressed in his transition from the defensive to offensive line last season, could be options to replace Jackson at left tackle. USC signed six offensive linemen during the early-signing period in hopes of mitigating its losses at left and right tackle.

For Jackson, the decision to declare appeared to be a clear one. Draft prognosticators have suggested he is a probable first- or second-round pick. Many agree that Jackson is still a raw prospect, but one with the prototype size and athleticism that NFL scouts covet.

In his announcement, Jackson thanked his family, as well as USC coach Clay Helton for “your leadership and your constant support of me and my family, both on and off the field.”

“The bond of the Trojan Family is for life,” he wrote.

USC is still awaiting a decision from junior wideout Tyler Vaughns, who has also been weighing whether to return or declare for the draft.