No one knows the newest Bengals rookies better than the writers who covered their college careers. With that in mind, we’re beginning our annual series of Q&As with the SB Nation college blogs who cover each team from which the Bengals drafted players.
Jefferson was selected by the Bengals in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft thanks to the draft pick the Bengals acquired in their draft trade with the Chiefs. Pick No. 78, with which Jefferson was selected, also received the honor of free pizza for a year. Though, Jefferson is gluten-free!
Jefferson spent three seasons with the Longhorns during which he recorded 231 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, 5 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery (which went for a touchdown) and 2 forced fumbles. He ranked third in the Big 12 in 2017 in total tackles with 110, ranked second in solo tackles with 79 and in 2016 ranked seventh in the conference with six sacks.
Now, let’s get to the questions and learn more about Jefferson!
Rebecca Toback: What do you think about the Bengals’ addition of Malik Jefferson in Round 3 of the draft?
Wescott Eberts: The third-round selection for Jefferson fits in line with most projections as a result of his elite-level athleticism. If there weren’t some question marks about certain aspects of his game, he would have gone higher, but there’s no doubt that he has plenty of upside, and that made him a solid pick for that part of the draft.
RT: What was Jefferson known for during his time at Texas? Anything off-the-field?
WE: Jefferson arrived at Texas with comparisons to Tim Tebow because his charismatic personality was expected to help the Horns close the 2015 recruiting class with a bang. And that’s exactly what happened. As soon as he stepped on the field, he became the face of the program, and carried with it tremendous expectations. He’s an extremely socially-conscious individual who attended a summit on police-community relations while he was at Texas and generally conducted himself like someone who always knew he was in the spotlight and was aware of the responsibilities that carried with it. Partly because of that, and partly because he’s just a good person, he always took extra time with fans to make them feel special.
RT: What do you see as some of his strengths?
WE: Speed is his No. 1 strength -- he can range sideline to sideline and has an extra gear closing on opposing players in space. At times, he flashed as a pass rusher just due to his pure quickness.
RT: How about any weaknesses?
WE: In the pre-draft process, there were questions about his instincts, ability to take on blocks, and a lack of plays made in coverage.
RT: Did he have any major injuries of note while in college?
WE: Probably the biggest issue that he dealt with was turf toe at the end of last season, but he recovered from that in time for the NFL Combine and clearly didn’t suffer any ill effects. Jefferson was a pretty durable player at Texas, so there aren’t any particular injury concerns.
RT: Was he a leader on the defense at Texas? Was he known for his personality?
WE: Jefferson was definitely a leader at Texas. He has a natural charisma that tends to draw people to him. The one thing that I would say about that is that he didn’t always lead by example, as he was benched during his sophomore season when he admittedly stopped pushing to get better after the first game. However, all indications are that he learned from that experience to help him become a better player and better leader as a junior.
RT: The Bengals need athletic linebackers who can excel in coverage. Is that how you’d describe Jefferson?
WE: All the tools are there for Jefferson to become a good player in coverage and it wasn’t a weakness for him in college.
RT: It seems like he has yet to reach his potential and didn’t fully thrive as much as he was expected to at Texas. Do you agree? Any reason for that in particular?
WE: I think the expectations were a little bit too high when he arrived. There was some instability around him with the demotion of Vance Bedford early in his sophomore season. There were some areas where Jefferson still struggled as a junior, but he did improve under Todd Orlando, so there is reason to believe the Bengals coaches can get more out of him as a professional.
RT: Anything else Bengals fans should know?
WE: One fun fact about Jefferson is that he’s one of the first big-time players out to college to sign with Lil Wayne’s Young Money agency. Other than that, I think Bengals fans are really going to love Jefferson because he’s a wonderful person. He was an extremely enjoyable to get to know during the recruiting process -- he already knew how to conduct himself like a professional well before he turned 18 -- and it was equally enjoyable to cover him at Texas.
Thanks to Wescott for answering our questions! You can follow him on Twitter @SBN_Wescott.