Whether the Eagles choose to keep Mychal Kendricks or not, linebacker is a spot that needs to be addressed in the upcoming draft. While this draft class is fairly top-heavy with linebackers, according to multiple mocks, it looks like at least the top four will be taken well before the Eagles have a chance to grab them. Malik Jefferson is the next man up that could very well be there when the 32nd pick is announced.
Jefferson was a top-20 recruit out of high school and played his college ball at Texas. As a true freshman, he started 9 of 11 games (missing two games due to an ankle injury) and was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Missing another two games in his sophomore year due to a concussion, Jefferson was able to add a couple of more sacks and tackles for a loss, making him 2nd team, all Big-12. During his final season in Texas, Jefferson saw a coaching change bringing his tackles up to 110 from 60 during the previous year. He also tacked on 10 for a loss and 4 sacks, giving him AP 2nd team All American Honors.
There is no denying Jefferson’s athletic ability and this is why he was so highly recruited as he backed it all up three years later in the combine on his way to the NFL. Jefferson uses this ability to his advantage during blitzes by taking the edge on slower Tackles and beating blockers to gaps inside of the line with pure speed. He’s also able to use his speed to catch running backs that are able to get around the edge for bigger runs. During his first two seasons in Texas, he was also asked to drop back into coverage more often in which he was reasonably successful.
While Jefferson has all of the physical attributes to be an NFL linebacker, there is a reason he will likely fall to the 32nd pick. The Texas 2nd team All-American seemed to lack the instincts that you need to be an every-down linebacker. More often than not, Jefferson was noticeably the last one on the defense to react to a play. Fortunately, he was often able to recover from his late reactions to still make a play because of his natural athleticism. Jefferson also seemed to lack effort sometimes. Multiple times per game he would get caught watching the ball go to the other side of the field and when the ball carrier would make his way towards the middle, Jefferson was not there to make the tackle due to him not playing to the whistle sounds.
The Diagnosis: Blitzing 3rd Down Linebacker
Based on pure athleticism, Jefferson will always have a role in the NFL coming off of the edge in a 3-4 defense as a blitzing linebacker, occasionally dropping into coverage. If he is able to put it all together, the former Longhorn could be a dominant every-down player. The Eagles should pass on Jefferson with the 32nd pick due to the likelihood of him being just a blitzing linebacker that doesn’t fit Jim Schwartz scheme.