There may not be a more intriguing player in the Bengals’ 2018 NFL Draft class than Malik Jefferson.
Entering the draft, Jefferson was a highly regarded linebacker, especially after he had a very productive Scouting Combine. He finished near the top of the linebackers in the 40-yard dash, broad jump, and he put up 27 reps during the bench press.
Jefferson finished his career at Texas with 231 tackles (26 for a loss), 13 sacks, two forced fumbles and five passes defended. His stats really took a jump in his senior year when he finished with 110 total tackles.
While Jefferson has the ideal build for an NFL linebacker at 6’3” and 235 pounds, he lacks the instincts that would have gotten him drafted higher. He struggles to diagnose plays and reach, but when he does correctly, his straight-line burst is as good as any linebacker in this draft class.
Depending on who you listened to heading into the draft, Jefferson was projected anywhere from a late second-round pick to someone that could go in the middle of Day 3.
ESPN’s Todd McShay had Jefferson ranked 78th overall coming into the draft, while Mel Kiper ranked him 105th. NFL.com ranked Jefferson 127th. CBS Sports had him ranked 60th.
The Cold Omaha Consensus Big Board, which factors in every major draft ranking, had Jefferson ranked as the 69th-best prospect in this draft.
The good news is he won’t be thrown right into the field. He’ll likely be a backup behind Vincent Rey and Vontaze Burfict (when his suspension is up) at weakside linebacker. Jefferson could probably play in the middle and back up Preston Brown.
Still, I wouldn’t expect to see much of Jefferson in 2018 outside of special teams.