Holding back-to-back picks at 77 and 78 overall, the Bengals landed Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard and Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson. Both are talented players, projected by some draft experts as second-round prospects, but the Bengals nabbed them both in the middle of the third round.
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 Texas changed to more of an attacking man-to-man defense and 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. If Jefferson can begin harnessing his talents and learn how to read offenses better, he can become a force in the Bengals’ defense.
So, what do the NFL scouts think of the former Texas linebacker?
Every year, Bob McGinn speaks to scouts, personnel directors, NFL executives and coaches about the top crop of talent in the NFL Draft. That allows him to get great analysis on prospects and then create a ranking of the top guys at each position.
While the scouts’ opinions varied on Jefferson, it was clear he was highly thought of going into the draft, so much that he earned a Round 2 projection.
5. MALIK JEFFERSON, Texas (6-2, 237, 4.55, Round 2): Five-star recruit, third-year junior and three-year starter at various positions. “Can play inside or outside and can rush the passer,” one scout said. “Excellent athletic ability and quickness. Good tackler. Around the ball. Fills and fits well. Does not let the blocker get much contact on him.” Not durable, missing games each of his three seasons.
“He is everything you want athletically,” said a second scout. “But I thought the instincts were off and the production was off. He didn’t get to the plays he should. He’s what I call a clear-view linebacker. If there’s nobody blocking him, if the defensive line keeps everybody off and if it’s right there between the tackles he can hammer you. But go try and find the ball, I thought he was really lacking.
“He looks just like you draw guys up. ‘Oh, my God, you want a linebacker, that’s the guy you want.’” Finished with 233 tackles (25 ½ for loss) and 12 sacks. “Stiff,” said a third scout. “Big and can run and can hit. He’s a little lacking in instincts, and he’s stiff.”
When it came to rankings, McGinn did a poll in which 13 executives in personnel listed their top seven best linebackers. A first-place vote was worth seven points, a second-place vote was worth six and so on.
Here’s how that played out in terms of the linebackers, which saw Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds and Georgia’s Roquan Smith come out on top:
Edmunds edged Smith in points, 84-83, thanks in part to a 7-5 margin in first-place votes. Evans drew the other first.
Also with double-digit point totals were (Rashaan) Evans (65), (Leighton) Vander Esch (49), Texas’ Malik Jefferson (28), Brigham Young’s Fred Warner (12), South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard (11) and Ohio State’s Jerome Baker (10).
Rounding out the votes were Memphis’ Genard Avery (nine), Iowa’s Josey Jewell (eight), Vanderbilt’s Oren Burks (two), Virginia’s Micah Kiser (one), Arizona State’s Christian Sam (one) and Ohio State’s Chris Worley (one).
The Bengals actually signed Chris Worley as an undrafted free agent, so it’s good to see him mentioned.
As for Jefferson, it’s pretty clear he has the talent and ability to be an impact player in the NFL. The concern is if he’ll be able to put it all together and consistently perform on the field, something he didn’t always do at Texas.
The Bengals could certainly use an athletic linebacker, so let’s see if Jefferson can rise to the occasion in Cincinnati.