The Cincinnati Bengals drafted linebacker Malik Jefferson in the third round of the NFL Draft. Could he bring another Pro Bowler to the linebacker core?
The Cincinnati Bengals have struggled to find help at the linebacker positions outside of veteran linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Considering Burfict is facing another four-game suspension at the beginning of the 2018 season, that need was even more significant this offseason. Cincinnati drafted Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson to be the key to their struggles over recent years hopefully.
Jefferson played both inside and outside linebacker in college but will likely be playing outside linebacker in the NFL. Outside of Burfict, Jefferson will have to battle with veteran linebacker Vincent Rey, Nick Vigil, and Jordan Evans for a starting position. Considering the suspension of Burfict, however, Jefferson could become a day one starter for Cincinnati.
Especially when it comes to nickel and dime sets, I could see Jefferson getting time on the field. His ability to drop into coverage, something the Bengals have lacked at the linebacker position in recent years, is something that I like about him. Running a 4.52 40-yard dash at the combine proved his incredible speed at 236 pounds. He showed the ability to cover at Texas which will be a relief for the Bengals defense that relies on their linebackers dropping into coverage.
Cincinnati’s defense also uses their linebackers heavily to rush the quarterback. Jefferson has the speed to get into the backfield and make plays with his 13 sacks and 26 tackles for a loss during his time at Texas. While Jefferson lacks some of the instincts coming into the NFL, his ability to quickly react and get to the ball carrier is impressive. Check out this video showing his speed to get after ball carriers and not let them reach the edge.
As I expressed in my film review following the selection of Jefferson, he shows the abilities to make plays with his speed and change of direction. While he lacks instincts and can be slower to diagnose plays, his reaction and pursuit speed often make up for that. Reaching sideline to sideline, he could also be a nightmare for running backs trying to get to the edge.
Jefferson will need to improve his abilities to take on offensive linemen. Too often he was pushed out of the way by unseen pulling guards in college. Working with a group of veteran linebackers in Cincinnati, Jefferson should get more than enough advice and development to improve in this area. It’s hard not to have optimism about his future with the rare athletic abilities he holds.
Depending on his improvements and battles in camp for a starting role, the Bengals could have a substantial linebacking core in 2018 once Burfict returns from suspension. Cincinnati addressed the inside linebacker position during free agency with a homegrown Preston Brown who spent his first four years with Buffalo. There’s also Carl Lawson who is expected to take on more linebacker roles this coming season.
While entering the 2017 season, Jefferson was a projected first-round grade, so Cincinnati grabbing him in the third round makes for a high-value pick. He led the Longhorns in tackles all three seasons in Texas and out of those 110 tackles, 79 of them were solo. Cincinnati has had only one Pro Bowl linebacker in Vontaze Burfict but could we see another Pro Bowler in Jefferson sometime in the future? Could this be a dynamic duo on the outsides for the Bengals?