University of Texas
Listed Height- 6’2”
Listed Weight- 240 Pounds
Malik will be a junior this year at the University of Texas. Coming out of high school he was one of the highest touted players in the country. He didn’t disappoint either, becoming an instant contributor, starting 9 games as a freshmen and winning “Big 12 Defensive Freshmen of the Year”. He made an impact all over as a freshmen from sacks (2.5), TFLs (7), to even scoring a touchdown off a fumble recovery against Rice (2nd career start), added 61 tackles as well. Continuing his success last year as a sophomore, he was named as a semifinalists for the Butkus award (given to the best LB in the nation). He finished 2016 with 60 tackles, 9 TFL, and 6.5 sacks. It’s tough to get more versatile and dynamic than Jefferson as a LB.
If you liked Jaylon Smith of Norte Dame coming out a couple years ago before he got injured, Malik is a similar mold. Although, Malik doesn’t have quite the explosive speed Jaylon did. Listed at 6’3″ 240 pounds pounds. He doesn’t appear this heavy by looking at him but he has long limbs, including some nice long arms. Malik plays with quick short steps, this differentiates from your typical linebacker that you see use longer strides to get to the ball. These quick steps allow him to stay square when tackling shiftier ball carriers on the edge. I believe this should also improve his ability and growth potential in coverage. He already does very well mirroring RBs out of the backfield on swing passes, had a very nice open field tackle against Oklahoma’s (now Cincinnati Bengals 2nd round pick) Joe Mixon last season. Jefferson is a very versatile blitzer, had 6.5 sacks last year as a sophomore and 2.5 as a freshmen. Coming off the edge he can use his length and quickness to get around linemen, does a nice job of wrapping up the QB. I’d be interested to see if he will be able to get the edge against NFL linemen, does really well in college though. They played him in a good amount of QB spy in some games, did a nice job of mirroring QBs movements. If he saw the QB start to wind up for the throw he showed really nice burst to pressure him and either sack him or force a sped-up/inaccurate throw. Shows excellent timing and feel doing this, was very effective against Texas Tech’s (now Kansas City Chiefs 1st Rounder) Patrick Mahomes, even had a very nice play chasing him down on the sidelines. Not sure if the play was blown dead or what (stat doesn’t show up), but he was able to get a strip sack/recovery for a TD against Baylor doing this as well. Malik shows very good sideline to sideline speed to chase plays down and his change of direction in space is top notch.
Weaknesses/Concerns/Room For Improvement
When you watch him take on blockers on the edge he does it effectively, using his length and leverage to shed and find the football. However, when he’s lined up inside he really finds himself lost. He gets overwhelmed inside by interior linemen, that includes when he straight blitzes from the middle as well. Doesn’t seem comfortable inside on running plays. Shows very quick recognition on running plays but this is often negated by false steps when he’s lined up inside. I would say he’s usually a good tackler but he has room for improvement there. Does a nice job of using his long arms to wrap up. When you see him miss tackles, he gets too high on the ball carrier and at times he doesn’t tackle through the carrier, allowing them to slip out of his grasps in both instances. As I said earlier, I believe he has potential to be a good cover backer but right now he has some work to do. He’s not very consistent in getting to his drops cleanly, drifts a bit and allows opens zones over the middle. Would like to see him play with more anticipation/awareness and make more plays in coverage. He does a nice job of deflecting balls from QB spy, times the jump well, would like to see that translate to deeper coverages. Although he has good speed it seems that he believes he is faster than he truly is. That being said, he needs to improve his pursuit angles to the ball carrier, there’s many times when I see him in position to make a tackle on the edge but he attempts to undercut the play and ends up taking himself out of it. You can get away with that against some guys but you shouldn’t rely on it. I wouldn’t say Malik plays with the greatest motor in the world chasing plays, not saying he’s lazy but he won’t win any coach’s award there. From freshmen year to sophomore year you can tell that he added some functional strength, took on blocks much better and was a more consistent tackler. I believe he would really benefit from continuing to add play strength, he’s a long thin guy so he should have room to fill out his body. Maybe it could help to add more pop to his game. As of right now you may fear him as a talent but you don’t fear him as a hitter.
Overall, Malik Jefferson is a very intriguing linebacker prospect, with in my opinion his best trait being his versatility. He was used all over the defense at Texas from playing outside/inside backer, stood him up as an outside rusher or over the guard to rush up the middle, and even lined up far outside on the 3rd WR to cover some outside zone. Linebackers right now in the NFL are really tough to gauge where they will fall on draft day. I see a lot of early mock drafts that have him in the top ten. There’s a lot of things he has potential to do well but he doesn’t do those well now. I’m not sure I believe he’s quite the intimidating force of a top ten linebacker. I see him more in the mid- late first round range. Unless he makes leaps and bounds strides as a guy in coverage and starts to make a lot more plays back there, which I believe he has the potential to do some day. He also needs to be more consistent with his tackling technique and his angles to the ball. If Texas wants to see him be the most successful they would play him on the outside, either over the offensive tackle or outside of him. Could be a situation where they have him playing in so many different places that’s it’s tough for him to be good at all of them yet. You hope it’s only a matter of time before he puts it all together, you want him on your team for that. Glad to see a Texas player in some first round hype, it’s been a while.
As I said numerous times in my thoughts, Malik needs to be an outside backer. I really like him as the will backer in your traditional 4-3 defense. His ability to stay square with elusive players on the edge would be very valuable to a defensive coordinator. All that being said, you need a coach who will understand and utilize his different abilities as a rusher. A 4-3 team would be happy to have him. Sean Lee is getting up there in age, Jaylon Smith is yet to be seen. Cowboys May be in the market for a linebacker next season. They would be happy to have a versatile playmaker at the second level of their defense. If Jaylon Smith works out, you have two similar, dynamic players.
Potential Top 15
1st Round ?
Highlights/2016 game vs Oklahoma
If there’s someone else you want me to do a report on, let me know and I’ll definitely check him out. You can either leave a comment on this report or you can tweet me @dexterharris28 on twitter.