The odds were always stacked against Nathan Jacobson when it came to making a breakthrough in the NFL.
The Snohomish High School graduate is an offensive lineman who weighs less than 300 pounds, which means he’s smaller than what NFL teams typically look for in a blocker.
He came from UNLV, a college program that’s had little success in recent years and even less history of producing NFL players, and therefore receives limited attention from NFL scouts.
Heck, even fate seemed to be against Jacobson, as he suffered an injury just before UNLV’s pro day prior to this year’s NFL draft. Jacobson still participated in the pro day drills, but was unable to record the type of times that cause NFL executives to take a second look.
All of which means that Jacobson has earned his NFL opportunity.
Jacobson is getting his chance at cracking an NFL roster this summer as a rookie undrafted free agent with the Denver Broncos, and now that he’s been given his shot he’s determined to make the most of it.
“It’s been amazing,” Jacobson, reached by cell phone in Denver, said about being with the Broncos. “It’s been a dream, it’s always been my dream to play in the NFL. But this whole year has just flown by, it’s just been a whirlwind.”
Jacobson went from undrafted player out of UNLV, to rookie camp invitee, to a spot on Denver’s 90-player offseason roster in quick succession. He’s spending the time following the conclusion of Broncos minicamp, which ended June 6, in Denver continuing his preparations for training camp, which begins July 18.
And it’s been a case of a player making the most of his chance.
Jacobson, who graduated from Snohomish in 2015 having been an All-Wesco and All-Area performer, exhausted his college eligibility last fall. He started 38 straight games for UNLV at right tackle, was named honorable mention All-Mountain West Conference three straight years, and received an invite to play in the Tropical Bowl, a senior all-star game in Daytona Beach, Florida, in January.
Jacobson knew he wanted to continue his football career as a professional, but he wasn’t sure how that would manifest itself. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds, Jacobson is small for an NFL offensive lineman. His college team went 13-23 during his three years as a starter, and UNLV hasn’t had a player drafted since 2010. Then Jacobson suffered a groin injury just before UNLV’s pro day, which limited his ability to impress scouts. Though he was in contact with a handful of NFL teams prior to the draft, he was neither selected nor signed as an undrafted free agent in the post-draft rush.
Then the Monday after the draft Jacobson received a call from the Broncos with the offer of a rookie camp tryout.
“It was basically my only opportunity for a tryout,” Jacobson said. “I had a tryout in Canada the weekend before Denver’s rookie camp where I had to pay out of my own pocket. I just took advantage of the opportunity. I was ready for it and I worked my tail off.”
Denver had 47 players at its rookie camp, 20 of whom were there on tryouts like Jacobson. When the three-day camp was over, the Broncos signed three of the tryout players to the offseason roster. Jacobson was one of them.
“It was surreal,” Jacobson said. “I was just trying to keep it together after practice. We were taking team pictures and saying thanks to coaches, and one of them came up to me and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to sign you tomorrow.’ It was the last day of camp and it was Mother’s Day, so I was able to call my mom, wish her happy Mother’s Day and give her the great news.”
What did Jacobson show the coaches to earn the contract?
“The first thing I’d say was my conditioning,” Jacobson said. “I was pretty conditioned for camp. Everyone was freaking out about the Mile High City (Denver is located at an elevation of 5,280 feet), but Las Vegas is over 2,000 feet, so while going up another 3,000 feet is a lot, I’d trained every day in a place that’s not as low. I was ready.
“Then I just came in with the mindset of going all out every play,” Jacobson continued. “I put in the effort to fly around the field, and I tried to be a great teammate. Finally there was my athletic ability. We ran some screens where I was able to get out and run, and that made up for my pro day numbers.”
By being signed to a contract, Jacobson was able to participate in Denver’s OTAs and minicamp. Although he spent the time before the draft preparing to be a center, a position he never played in college, but which is more appropriate for his size, the Broncos have had Jacobson working at both tackle positions.
Jacobson still has his work cut out for him to make the final 53-man roster. Being an undrafted free agent means he’ll have to continue impressing the coaches to survive the cut. But he’s staying optimistic.
“I keep my expectations high,” Jacobson said. “I’ve got a good shot if I do everything right for the next month-and-a-half. I have to be able to play both sides well, I have to play center really well. That gives me a chance.”
And Jacobson has already shown what he can do when given a chance.