Leading up to the 2017 college football season, the CFB Film Room Scouting Dept. is putting together a summer scouting series. We’re focusing on the top draft-eligible prospects entering the 2017 season and will be reviewing their strengths and weaknesses from an NFL scouting perspective.
Among the top rising juniors heading into the 2017 season is Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson. A two-year starter, Jefferson had a standout 2015 campaign where he earned numerous accolades including Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, Honorable Mention All-Big 12 and Freshman All-American honors.
In 2016, Malik moved to inside linebacker with inconsistent results. He totaled 62 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss en route to second team All-Big 12 honors, though Jefferson was benched mid-season due to lack of production. With 22 games and 18 starts now under his belt, Malik will move back to the Will linebacker role in new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s 3-4 scheme.
In the next installment of our Summer Scouting Series we take a closer look at the traits that make Malik Jefferson a top prospect ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft, as well as areas Jefferson will need to improve upon in the 2017 season.
At 6’2” 238, Malik Jefferson has a thick frame and possesses an NFL-ready body as he heads into his third season for the Longhorns.
Jefferson has good speed and consistently shows his ability to run sideline to sideline in pursuit of the ball carrier. Furthermore, Malik is an explosive athlete with quick acceleration and the ability to burst between blockers while in pursuit. The Texas linebacker shows limitations with lateral quickness and change of direction when in space.
As a run-stopper, Malik’s game plays out like a tale of two halves. As a play-side defender, Malik struggles to make plays at the point of attack. He is often late to fill his gap responsibility and when he does meet the ball carrier in the hole he does not bring the necessary “pop” to stick the runner, often getting pushed backward, yielding additional yards.
Where Jefferson excels is when he is able to pursue the play as a backside defender. Here, Malik is able to utilize his athleticism to navigate through traffic. Jefferson possesses great range as a defender, and when he is able to stay clean of contact he is capable of making highlight-reel plays.
Malik will need to improve upon his functional strength as he struggles to shed blocks and finish tackles while better utilizing his use of hands to disengage and create space to operate.
Our heat map of Malik Jefferson’s tackles in 2016 also demonstrates his range on the field. While it would be nice to see more plays made at or behind the line of scrimmage, his ability to get to the sideline and chase down the ball carrier is a valuable trait to have in one of your key linebackers.
When tasked with a coverage assignment, Malik Jefferson is best suited for man coverage where he can utilize his size and speed to matchup versus opposing running backs operating into the flats or shallow middle of the field. Jefferson struggles in Zone Coverage, getting lost in space due to lack of mental processing and awareness as the play develops. When dropping into coverage, Malik appears uncomfortable and does not play with the same amount of anticipation and instinct that separates him from his peers in other aspects of his game.
When utilized as a pass rusher or as a blitzing linebacker, Jefferson struggled to consistently generate pressure on the quarterback, as playing through contact proved to be difficult. As a spy, a role which Jefferson played frequently in sub-packages, he was able to showcase his speed and acceleration, while staying clean, to make plays.
Final Thoughts on Malik Jefferson
Malik Jefferson is an athletic linebacker that will provide experience at multiple positions. While he was solid at inside linebacker during the 2016 season, his skill set best suits a scheme where he can utilize his range to track plays off the ball and in pursuit.
Jefferson will move back to Will linebacker during the 2017 season, a move that should aid in his production. Furthermore, Texas will be transitioning to a 3-4 scheme under Todd Orlando in 2017 which should excite Jefferson, as well as NFL decision makers. The change in scheme should suit Jefferson well, by creating space where he can use speed as well as clean sight lines, aiding his ability to read and react.
Jefferson is an intriguing prospect who will be looking to solidify himself as a Day 1, pick provided he can improve upon his ability to play at the line of scrimmage.