From now until the 2018 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#46 Malik Jefferson / ILB / 6’3 240 lbs
– Instinctive, diagnoses plays in the backfield quickly
– Has the downhill speed to meet the running back in the hole
– Shows comfortability dropping into coverage
– Good understanding of zone depth in pass coverage
– Rangy athlete, sideline to sideline
– Is susceptible to get pushed around by bigger, stronger linemen
– Struggles to shed blockers or defeat blockers one on one
– Has room to add more strength
– Picked up easily on blitzes due to lack of strength
– 2017: 110 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks
– Career: 231 total tackles, 26 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
– 2017 Second Team All American
– 2017 Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year
– 2017 First Team All-Big 12
– 2015 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year
Malik Jefferson played inside linebacker in Todd Orlando’s wonky 3-3-5 (sometimes 3-4-4) scheme. In this scheme, Jefferson was able to flash his aggressiveness and instinctive traits from sideline to sideline, racking up 110 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss. Jefferson has a lot of qualities that NFL teams would desire for an inside linebacker as his athleticism and instincts will make him a key player in this year’s NFL draft.
Jefferson has incredible instincts to read and react to what is occurring in the offensive backfield. From there, Jefferson’s aggressiveness takes over as the Texas linebacker is quicker to the hole than most running backs. Being able to correctly diagnose a play is half the battle, while finishing is the other half, Jefferson routinely does both as the linebacker routinely takes down ball carriers in a vicious fashion.
Another example of Jefferson trusting his instincts and blowing up a play in the backfield. This time Jefferson also swims around a lineman’s block in order to wrap the USC ball carrier for a loss. Jefferson’s downhill pursuit is a major reason why he was voted Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
Now let’s dive into what really puts Jefferson over the top as an inside linebacker – his ability in space and in coverage. Jefferson is fluid in space and in coverage, showing an excellent understanding of his zone depth. Watch above how Jefferson continues to drift back with the receiver. Because the underneath coverage is so tight, the throw must be high, leaving a high probability for error and sure enough, the pass is intercepted. Playing in a 3-3-5 or 3-3-4 defense, Jefferson was able to showcase his range and strengths in coverage.
Another example of Jefferson’s ability in coverage as the Texas linebacker showcases his instincts once again on the play above. Jefferson is not fooled by Sam Darnold’s first look outside and instead holds his zone, while maintaining vision of the play in front of him. It is then when Jefferson sees a receiver dragging across the field and attacks promptly. In fact, Jefferson arrives almost as fast as the ball arrives. Jefferson’s discipline and instincts destroys any hope USC had of converting this 3rd and five.
The one fatal flaw that Jefferson carries as baggage is his lack of strength to shed blocks. Once engaged with a bigger, stronger offensive lineman, Jefferson struggles mightily to fend off his man and make a play. That is exactly what is occurring on the play above, Jefferson is swallowed by an Oklahoma lineman and unable to fight back. The result is a big gain but Jefferson is unaware as by the time he has fought off the block, the running back is on his way to the ground.
Jefferson’s lack of strength carries over when he is ordered to blitz as he is simply no match to beat the blocker in front of him. The Texas inside linebacker is easily negated when blitzing by offensive lineman. Adding more strength will be on top of the list of goals for Jefferson as he makes the jump to the NFL.
Inside linebacker is a big need for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jefferson does meet a lot of what the Steelers look for in their linebackers. Jefferson plays with swagger, aggressiveness and is capable of dropping into coverage. Could Jefferson be the answer for the Steelers’ 3-4 defense? Though I’d project Jefferson better in a 4-3 defense, he certainly could be a valuable addition to a team that has lacked a true sideline to sideline linebacker since Ryan Shazier went down.
Projection: Day Two (Mid round 2- early round 3)
Games Watched: vs USC, vs Iowa State, vs Oklahoma
|Previous 2018 NFL Draft Player Profiles|
|Sam Darnold||Garret Dooley||Calvin Ridley||Fred Warner||Ronald Jones II|
|Maurice Hurst||Mike McCray||DeShon Elliott|