#78 Bengals: ILB Malik Jefferson

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Overview
A three-year starter at Texas, Jefferson moved from a traditional MIKE linebacker position under Charlie Strong to a hybrid “Rover” linebacker this past season in defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s multiple scheme. He is a see-ball, get-ball linebacker and a guesser – when he guesses correctly or has a clear runway, it looks like coaching tape, but when he guesses wrong, it negates his athleticism and leads to positive plays for the offense, which happens far too frequently on his game film. He also needs to upgrade his finishing skills, but violence and effort aren’t concerns.

Overall, Jefferson has NFL-level athleticism and an attacking mindset, but he attacks before diagnosing and needs space to be effective, allowing him to think less and run more – has starting NFL potential, but requires simplified reads to allow his best traits (speed and aggressiveness) to shine.

BACKGROUND
A five-star linebacker recruit out of high school, Malik Jefferson was named the 2014 Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top high school linebacker and was considered the top linebacker recruit nationally by several services. He narrowed his college choice to Texas, Texas A&M and UCLA before choosing the Longhorns, giving Charlie Strong his first signature recruit as head coach at Texas. Jefferson enrolled early in Austin and became a true freshman starter, posting 61 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and three pass break-ups in 2015 to earn Freshman All-American and Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors.

His sophomore season was near identical to his freshman campaign, finishing with 62 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks over nine starts. Jefferson had his best season as a junior, becoming the fifth player in Texas history to earn Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He recorded a team-best 110 tackles and 10 tackles for loss, earning First Team All-Big 12 honors.

Analysis
STRENGTHS
Explosive mover, both initially and as a finisher. Field fast to cover a lot of green and play both sidelines. Balanced feet and flexible hips to transfer his weight and smoothly stay in stride. Athletic reflexes to find and skirt pulling blockers in the hole.
Physical downhill and fills with intensity. Competes with disregard for his body, throwing himself towards the ballcarrier. Fearless, vicious tackler with strong fingers, hands and wrists to make off-balanced stops. Boasts the athletic traits that translate well into coverage. Every down player at Texas and experienced on special teams coverages. Productive resume with 233 career tackles. – Dane Brugler 12/12/2017

WEAKNESSES
Marginal instincts. Takes too many false steps and often sees what the offense wants him to see – overaggressive and smart ballcarriers and play-callers know it, setting him up. Inconsistent backfield vision, flowing with the action instead of anticipating or tracking the football. Impatient and takes himself out of plays, vacating gaps and attacking before reading – gets killed on cutback runs due to his tendency to overpursue. Take-on technique doesn’t match his intentions.

Too often lost among the trash and washed out in the trenches. Inexperienced in coverage and late to recognize route combinations. Physical tackler, but lacks consistency due to streaky wrap-up mechanics. Narrow shoulders and lacks ideal length for the position. Missed games each of his three collegiate seasons due to injuries, including sitting out the 2017 Texas Bowl due to turf toe (Dec. 2017) – missed two games as a sophomore due to a concussion (Nov. 2016) and two games as a freshman with a left ankle injury (Nov. 2015). – Dane Brugler 12/12/17

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