Malik Jefferson will be one of the more intriguing rookies to watch for the Bengals this year.
Entering the NFL Draft, Jefferson was a highly regarded linebacker from a big-time program in Texas. He finished his college career 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.
Jefferson followed that up with a productive Scouting Combine (even if it was hell to deal with). 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.
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.
In other words, Jefferson is a raw, athletic freak who could be molded into a quality NFL linebacker if he fully commits himself to being one.
Even so, NFL teams weren’t high on Jefferson enough to take him until the middle of Round 3, where the Bengals scooped him up with their final Day 2 pick.
Since then, Jefferson has signed a his rookie contract, a four-year deal worth $3,593,728, including a $923,728 signing bonus. That’s also the exact amount of dead cap money the Bengals would have if Jefferson wa surprisingly cut this season. That kind of dead cap hit is why Jefferson is almost certain to make the roster.
However, if the Bengals designate Jefferson as a Post June 1 cut in 2019 — which is what would happen since he’d probably be getting cut in the preseason ‘if’ he were cut — the bengals would owe just $230,932 in dead cap money.
Here is a look at Jefferson’s full contract, courtesy of Over The Cap:
Looking ahead, Jefferson is one of the harder players to project in terms of playing time and role this season. If all the linebackers were healthy and eligible to play, Jefferson would probably spend most of this season in nothing more than a minor role on special teams, and he’d likely be a backup behind Vincent Rey and Vontaze Burfict at weakside linebacker. He could also probably play in the middle and back up Preston Brown.
But with Burfict suspended for the first four games, that’s going to open up more playing time for another backer to emerge. While the expectation is that will be one of Nick Vigil and Jordan Evans, both were major liabilities last year and shouldn’t be handed a job by any means.
If Jefferson is given the chance to compete, he may very well pass one or both of them on the depth chart and earn significant playing time early in his rookie season.