The Bengals drafted Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson with the 78th overall pick. He will instantly come in and likely compete for the spot left open by Vontaze Burfict’s four-game suspension.
However, he is far from a completed product. He has some work ahead of him, but he has tools that none of the other young Bengals’ linebackers currently have.
What brings to the table
Athleticism and coverage ability: The Bengals have lacked that linebacker who can go sideline-to-sideline for years now. They have especially lacked a guy who can cover the better receiving tight ends the NFL has to offer. Jefferson has the athletic tools to possibly be that guy.
Enough toughness: He isn’t just a skinny quick linebacker. He is 232 pounds and has the strength to reroute tight ends in coverage and meet running backs in the hole.
Some pass rush ability: He finished his career with 13 sacks at Texas. He isn’t the kind of guy who will be depended upon to get after the quarterback, but it is an option. Really, if the Bengals decide to go zone, sending him on a blitz might be a better option early in his career since he has some trouble breaking down the play in front of him.
Quarterback spy: Remember how Deshaun Watson embarrassed Cincinnati on Thursday night last year by out running most of the defense? Jefferson is the kind of guy who keeps that from happening. He should help against the teams issue with allowing speedy guys to break runs to the outside like that for huge gains.
Why the pick makes sense
Need for speed: The Bengals have struggled to find linebackers who can cover, stay with receiving tight ends and contain big runs. Young guys like Nick Vigil and Jordan Evans failed to show the ability to do those things last season, and it left the Bengals feeling the need for change.
Burfict’s lack of dependability: Similar to the way people feel the Bengals need an insurance policy for Tyler Eifert, they also need one for Burfict. He hasn’t started Week 1 in a long time. The NFL has a target on his back, and he has also struggled with injuries.
The defense takes a noticeable nosedive when he is out of the lineup as well. The Bengals brought in Preston Brown from Buffalo to help with this, and Jefferson is the next step toward a possible life after Burfict.
Perfect fit for scheme: The Bengals’ new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has talked about attacking the opposing offense more. He also expects more man coverage from his corners, which means he also needs linebackers capable of doing that. Jefferson was a so-so year at Texas until last year when they changed to more of an attacking defense.
Jefferson’s biggest issue is deciphering the offensive play in front of him, but if you allow him to just go out there and use his tools and be a good football player, then he won’t disappoint.
What are you most excited about with the Bengals selection of Jefferson?