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NFL leap is a tall order, but 6-foot-7 QB Tyree Jackson is ready

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Can Tyree Jackson be a difference-maker in the NFL? (1:25)

Jim Nagy, Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter give their reviews of Buffalo QB Tyree Jackson. (1:25)

When Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson was a toddler, his pediatrician told his parents their son had the potential to grow to 6-foot-7.

Sue Jackson, who is 5-9, and Fluarry "Flo" Jackson, 6-1, laughed.

For a while, the Jacksons' doubts seemed to be confirmed. Born Nov. 7, 1997, Tyree grew a step behind his peers and prayed to be taller so he could play in the NFL.

That dream is close to being realized. Now 21 and 6-7, Jackson is ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s eighth-ranked quarterback prospect in advance of the draft, set for April 25-27 in Nashville, Tennessee.

With one year of college eligibility remaining, Jackson bet on himself by declaring for the draft. The NFL's college advisory committee did not grade him as a first- or second-round pick after the 2018 season, implying he should stay in school.

However, intrigue about where he will be selected was heightened after he was named South MVP of the Senior Bowl in January and ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash at February's NFL combine.

"He's got some unbelievably unique traits," said former NFL quarterback Jordan Palmer, who has been preparing Jackson for the draft. "I have no idea what round he's gonna go."

Jackson once stood only 5-9 and weighed 139 pounds as a shellshocked 13-year-old freshman starter on his varsity football team at Mona Shores High School in Michigan. He squeaked out the cadence to teammates before his voice dropped, struggling through a 1-8 season. Eight years later, Jackson now faces questions about whether he might be too tall for his position.

"I know 6-7 is almost a negative at this point because not many guys have had success at 6-7 in the NFL," ESPN NFL draft expert Todd McShay said. "But he's intriguing because he can move the way he moves. This guy is bright. He picks things up quickly. There's just a lot to like about him. I think he's gonna wind up coming off the board a little earlier than people think. I think at the latest, probably, the fourth round."

From the beginning

Despite a slow start on the growth charts, Jackson began playing football at 5 years old as a running back. He switched to quarterback in seventh grade. Able to throw 50 yards as a middle schooler, Jackson won his age group in a Punt, Pass and Kick competition at Detroit's Ford Field, his parents said.

In March 2011, coach Matt Koziak arrived from neighboring Muskegon High School, a perennial power, and took over his alma mater -- down-on-its-luck Mona Shores. With no junior varsity team and wanting to establish the right work ethic for his program, he rolled the dice on Jackson as a freshman starter.

Jackson quickly earned Koziak's respect. In eighth grade that spring, Jackson showed up to his first football workout at the high school and stood in line at a treadmill. It was cranked up to its highest incline and highest speed, and each player would run 15 seconds.

Jackson jumped on and immediately lost his balance, grabbing hold of the handles as his shins were bloodied by the mercilessly spinning belt.

"He walked out of the room," Koziak said. "I thought, 'Well, that's it for him. This kid is embarrassed.'"

With a hardy tape job from trainers, Jackson returned 10 minutes later and finished the workout.

He also had to develop chemistry with his teammates, some of whom were more than four years older. Aaron Doriot, a senior receiver who later played football at Siena Heights University in Michigan, caught passes five or six days a week from Jackson that summer. At those workouts in 2011, Jackson was overthrowing Doriot by 20 or 30 yards.

"He was always the one to run and get the ball," Doriot said. "He always felt responsible for his actions. ... I knew he was going to be a leader. He knew that if he grew, he was going to be a name that everybody knew."

Jackson was 6-foot by his sophomore season in 2012, when Mona Shores improved to 4-5. By the start of his junior season in 2013, he was 6-2.

His parents had not missed any of his games to that point, but as Mona Shores clinched a state playoff berth for the first time in school history, Flo Jackson was hospitalized because of an infection. With his dad drifting in and out of consciousness because of a high fever and sepsis, Jackson stayed at Koziak's house overnight while Sue remained by her husband's side.

"It was definitely hard for [Tyree]. It was," Koziak recalled. "He broke down a couple times. Just never during football. Never around the guys."

In that hospital room, where Flo stayed for six weeks, the family hung Tyree's jersey on a chair and turned on a radio for dad to listen to the games. Tyree would visit his father before and after each game, showing him highlights of what had become the program's best season.

Flo recovered and Mona Shores finished 7-2 before losing in the playoffs, setting up Jackson's 2014 senior season, when his school went 8-1 and won its first league title since 1968. Jackson dislocated his kneecap in the state semifinal, which the Sailors won. He was medically cleared to play in the state final six days later but was far from 100 percent. Jackson's teammates, including the backup quarterback, voted for him to remain the starter.

Then 6-4 and still only 16, he wore a brace for his final high school game, able to throw but not run. Mona Shores lost.

The college years

Jackson had given a verbal commitment to then-Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn in August 2014 -- his only offer before his senior season. Two months later, Quinn was fired during his fifth season with the Bulls. Rarely on the NFL radar, the school had produced defensive end Khalil Mack, taken fifth overall in 2014, but few other pro prospects since joining Division I-A in 1999.

By signing day the following February, Jackson had received interest from Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan.

Lance Leipold, introduced in December 2014 as Buffalo's coach, and offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki, who had followed Leipold from Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, made frequent trips to the Jacksons' home in Michigan to ensure Tyree would stay committed to the school.

He redshirted as a freshman in 2015 and started nine games in 2016, completing 53 percent of his passes for nine touchdowns and nine interceptions as the Bulls finished 2-10. A knee injury limited Jackson to eight games in 2017, but he earned national attention by completing 60 percent of his passes for 2,096 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. Buffalo finished 6-6, becoming bowl-eligible for the second time in nine seasons.

Leipold saw Jackson modify his game after the October injury, concentrating on stepping up in the pocket instead of being too quick to scramble. By then, Jackson had grown to 6-7, and Leipold felt the next step in his progression would be attending the Manning Passing Academy the following summer in Thibodaux, Louisiana.

The counselors at the camp included 10 SEC quarterbacks, but the lanky 20-year-old in a blue Buffalo football T-shirt turned heads.

"That's Grant Hill," Archie Manning told those curious at Nicholls State University that week. "Grant Hill wants to become a quarterback."

Though Jackson had the look of a basketball player, his time at the Manning camp gave him a confidence boost.

"He saw his skill set versus others," Leipold said. "I think that showed him, whether he played at Buffalo or somewhere else, that he had the skills to do it. It was just a matter of continuing to refine his game."

Jackson later became one of 26 players named to the 2018 preseason watch list for the Davey O'Brien Award, given to the nation's top quarterback. He led Buffalo to a school-record 10 wins last season, completing 55 percent for 3,131 yards, 28 TDs and 12 interceptions. The Bulls lost the Mid-American Conference title game and fell to Troy in the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.

Set to graduate in December, Jackson was eligible to transfer and play immediately. His options also included playing a final season in Buffalo or entering the draft.

Archie Manning, a keynote speaker at a banquet before the bowl game, offered to help Jackson. When Jackson entered the NCAA's transfer portal on Dec. 26, 2018, he called Manning, who said he could reach out to his NFL contacts and relay their advice. Among the potential landing spots, Manning said, was Wisconsin.

Soon after, Jackson texted Manning that he was having reservations about transferring.

Betting on himself

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Blessed beyond measure! 🙏🏽

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The previous July, in the weeks after his exposure at the Manning camp, Jackson made a weekend trip to San Clemente, California, to train with Palmer. The former NFL quarterback (2008-14) and younger brother of former USC and Cardinals QB Carson Palmer had developed a business -- QB Summit -- as an instructor, and Jackson had reached out on Instagram for an invite.

When Jackson was mulling his future, Palmer advised him to eliminate one of his three options. A transfer was taken off the table.

Sue wanted her son to stay in school and work on his master's degree. She said Palmer also encouraged him to remain at Buffalo. The advisory committee gave its nudge for Jackson to hang back before its Jan. 14 deadline for underclassmen to declare. After discussing the decision as a family, Tyree chose to enter the draft. He announced the decision Jan. 6.

"I just said if you're going to bet, bet on yourself," Flo said.

Jackson immediately began preparing for the draft, flying to California to begin working with Palmer. He lived with two other quarterbacks in this draft -- Auburn's Jarrett Stidham and Missouri's Drew Lock. The group worked alongside Palmer's second-year clients and roommates Josh Allen (Bills), Sam Darnold (Jets) and Kyle Allen (Panthers).

Palmer began to dissect Jackson's mechanics.

"When you're tall and long, things can take longer," Palmer said. "They don't have to."

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Buffalo's Nunn comes up with tipped 51-yard reception

Buffalo's Tyree Jackson throws a deep pass that is tipped and ends up in the hands of Antonio Nunn for a 51-yard reception.

Jackson would be only the sixth quarterback in NFL history to be listed at 6-7 or taller, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Two 6-7 quarterbacks -- Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler -- are still in the NFL. Two others -- Sonny Gibbs (Lions, 1964) and Frank Patrick (Packers, 1970-72) -- barely played.

The NFL's tallest quarterback remains 6-8 Dan McGwire, the brother of former baseball player Mark McGwire. Dan was drafted No. 16 overall by the Seattle Seahawks in 1991. He started five games in four seasons for Seattle, throwing for two touchdowns and six interceptions.

Larry Kennan coached McGwire as the Seahawks' coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 1992-94. He also prepared Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Eli Manning and Alex Smith for the NFL draft. Now in retirement, Kennan tutors younger quarterbacks.

He said height was not what held McGwire back in Seattle.

"By the time I got there we had Rick Mirer and Dan was a backup quarterback," Kennan said. "If Dan McGwire had been on a really good team and been the guy, he would've been fine. He would've played in the league longer than he did and at a higher level."

Making a good impression

Jim Nagy, in his first year as the executive director of the Reese's Senior Bowl, first saw Jackson at the Manning camp last June and added him to the South roster in January. Jackson completed 13 of 21 passes for 165 yards with two touchdowns and one interception to earn his squad's MVP.

"Down in Mobile, he walked in a room [for team interviews] -- he can light up a room with his smile," Nagy said. "Talking to my friends in the league, he's done a great job in their meetings, he's done a nice job on the board."

At the NFL combine, Jackson topped quarterbacks in height, weight (249 pounds), hand size (10.75 inches) and arm length (34.25 inches). He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds, the second-fastest time among quarterbacks.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Jackson's 40 time was the fastest by any player 6-7 or taller since at least 2006 and matched that of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (6-foot-5) before he became the No. 1 overall pick in 2011.

"I feel like I'm very mobile and I've put that on tape a lot," Jackson said. "It's definitely been an advantage to be that tall and be able to see a field a little better, but also be very mobile as if I was shorter."

Scouts from almost every NFL team attended Jackson's pro day March 13, watching Palmer lead him in throwing about 50 scripted passes at the Buffalo Bills' indoor facility. Palmer focused on short and intermediate throws to showcase tweaks made to Jackson's accuracy and footwork in addition to his more obvious arm strength.

"I don't think anybody is going to throw a cooler ball than him," Palmer said. "Throw it farther, higher and harder -- I don't think anybody is really gonna do that."

Jackson plans on spending the draft with family and friends because of uncertainty over when he will be picked.

"It's going to be interesting when that run on quarterbacks happens," Nagy said. "If it happens early, maybe Tyree will get pulled up into the second [round]. But I think he's somewhere in that range of second or third round."

If that happens, Jackson will have won his bet on himself.