Weight: 238 lbs
40 Time: 4.52
Bench Press: 27 reps
Vertical Jump: 36
Jefferson comes in to the draft at a good size at 6’3, 238 lbs. He matches up size for size with a lot of tackles and guards in the NFL. He also matches up decent with tight ends and running backs that he may be matched against in man coverage. He is one of the bigger inside linebackers in this class and,he can move well with how big he is. He is a lean 238 though. At the combine he ran an impressive 4.52. It is difficult as to what you can really take away from the combine and how it will actually process once these guys get pads on. He had 110 tackles (most on the team) and 10 tackles for loss in 2017. This was a major improvement from 2016 where he racked up 59 tackles. Jefferson was a first team all-conference player in 2017 and also a second team AP All-American.
I felt like Jefferson was one of the better run defenders in this class. He comes from a 3-4 system at Texas and was usually the weak-side inside linebacker. One thing that caught my eye on Jefferson was at how good of a blitzer he was. The thing about inside linebackers who stunt is that usually they will be coming through A or B gap. Most of these stunts are head on with interior lineman, though there are certain times where an inside linebacker will come off of the edge. With Jefferson that Mike Pettine could utilize him in a lot of ways with stunts. His quickness and strength are a deadly combination on offensive lineman. His run fits seemed pretty good and he played gap sound. Most of the time Jefferson was the “cutback” player in which he played the backside A or B gap. He could play both strong-side or weak-side in the NFL. When he was the strong-side linebacker he held his own with guards and I saw him time and time again on tape stuff the run. When the run was away he was patient and anticipated the cutback well. One thing that I had in my notes on Jefferson was that he finishes the play, which is key in defending the run. Even if he didn’t make initial contact, he was there to rally to the ball carrier and help get him to the ground.
When it comes to coverage Jefferson was pretty good but that he also had room to improve. Texas played a lot of cover 3 and cover 1 defense. As an inside linebacker he was often pushing to the hook/curl underneath zone. He has to watch for anyone crossing the middle or an attached tight end running up the seam. Jefferson did a good job of getting a hand on tight ends and backs, slowing down their routes and making timing difficult in the pass game. At times, Texas would have him moved out on the slot or #3 receiver in a trips set, usually playing man. This would fit in well with what Pettine does as many times he uses inside linebackers to man up in a trips set, playing 1 inside linebacker in the box vs 1 back sets.
One thing that I did not like about Jefferson was his tendency to “play tall” at times. When he would come downhill to stop the run, he would show his numbers to offensive lineman which allowed for an easy block. The old saying holds true that “the low man wins the game of football”. His pad level could be an issue at the next level but it is something that he could fix. His pursuit to the ball felt lacking at times as well. Although he was patient with the cutback, when a play would go far across the field it would take him long to get to the ball. A players effort is usually measured by how far he is away from the ball at the end of the play. I don’t feel like he is a guy who takes plays off much, but was something that I noticed a time or two.
Another weakness that I noticed, but could easily be fixed, is his first initial step. At the snap of the ball every inside linebacker must take what is called the “read step”. A few steps forward, read the guard or back and find the ball. I felt like he was a little slow on reads at times but I think can be fixed by drills focusing specifically on reading and reacting. Vision is one of the most important factors when looking at inside linebackers.
My projection is that Malik Jefferson goes somewhere in the 3rd-4th round. I had him overall as my #3 inside linebacker in this class.
Check out some cut ups of Malik Jefferson’s 2017 season at Texas:
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