During the Marvin Lewis era, the Bengals have often struggleed with the linebacker position, especially in terms of pass coverage. In each of the past three drafts the Bengals have spent a pick looking to address that problem and the most recent of those picks is Malik Jefferson. The Bengals selected for the former Texas linebacker in the third round of the 2018 draft. Jefferson is easily the most athletic of the linebackers the Bengals have drafted. He is a physical freak and could help the Bengals’ struggling intermediate pass defense.
1. Jefferson had the third fastest 40-yard dash time for a linebacker at the NFL Combine with a 4.52 second speed.
Depending on who you classify as a linebacker (edge rushers, or not), Jefferson was the third or fourth fastest linebacker at the combine. On top of that, one of the players who ran faster than him was the 15 pound lighter Shaquem Griffin, whose recorded time was actually incorrect. This speed is something that the Bengals need at linebacker and even though they drafted Jordan Evans last year (who is also very fast) doesn’t mean they didn’t need more speedy guys. Both players boast great height, weight and speed combinations and have the potential to be top linebackers in the NFL if they can work on the intricacies of their game.
2. Coming out of high school Jefferson was the 10th highest rated player in the country and top overall linebacker.
Coming out of high school Jefferson was one of the top rated players in the entire country. This was largely due to his extremely desirable height weight and speed combination. However, he largely failed to live up to the hype that was generated going into college. This can be clearly seen when looking at his eventual draft position. He was rated as the 10th overall player coming out of high school, but ended up being the 78th overall pick in the draft.
3. He’s signed to rapper Lil’ Wayne’s sports agency, becoming one of the highest drafted players signed to the label.
A lot of football fans have heard of Roc Nation, the sports agency run by Jay-Z that has signed big names like Leonard Fournette and Saquon Barkley. They are the fourth overall pick and second overall pick in back-to-back years. Unlike Roc Nation, Lil’ Wayne’s agency hasn’t attracted clients who end up as high draft picks. Jefferson ended up being one of the highest draft picks in the history of the agency.
4. He won free Pizza Hut for a year by being the 14th pick in Round 3… 3.14, pi!
The Bengals traded with the Kansas City Chiefs, moving up from pick 100 to pick 78 in exchange for a swap of second round picks. This resulted in the Bengals ending up with pick 3.14 which is the first three digits of pi. Pizza Hut took over as the pizza sponsor of the NFL and this is one of the new promotions that Pizza Hut put into place. Whoever, ended up as pick 3.14 gets to have free pizza for a year and this year that was Bengals pick Malik Jefferson. Funnily enough, Jefferson actually is gluten-free, but luckily Pizza Hut has gluten-free options for him to eat for the next year.
5. Jefferson went from having 60 tackles in 2016 to 110 in 2017 with a new defensive coordinator at Texas. Why does that matter? It shows he’s highly coachable.
Jefferson ended up making a large leap in production in his senior year at Texas. He still has a lot of work to do to develop into an NFL starting linebacker, but the growth he showed is a good sign that he can grow more. With NFL coaching he should be able to take the next step forward that he was never able to take in the NFL. A year spent largely on the bench learning could also help speed up his growth. The fact that he improved each year in college could imply that he will continue to develop throughout his time in the NFL.
Jefferson is a very raw linebacker who has a lot he has to learn to become a difference maker for the Bengals. However, he offers the exact skill set that the Bengals currently lack at linebacker and could develop into one of the better linebackers in the league. Jefferson is definitely one of the highest variance players to come from the 2018 NFL Draft and the Bengals will be hoping he winds up closer to his ceiling than his floor. If just one of Nick Vigil, Jordan Evans, or Jefferson pan out to pair with Vontaze Burfict, then the Bengals will have a linebacker group to be feared across the league. And, it would be even better if all three of those young guys shine in 2018 and beyond.