The Bengals’ biggest defensive need going into the offseason was the linebacker position. The team suffered plenty of injuries there last season, but no replacement really stood out with their opportunity.
They went out and got Preston Brown from the Bills and then drafted Malik Jefferson in the third round of the draft. What can we expect from Jefferson in his rookie season though?
Weight: 245 pounds
Hometown: Mesquite, TX
Jefferson signed his rookie contract, which is a four-year deal worth $3,593,728, including a $923,728 signing bonus. The Bengals would also suffer that much of a cap hit if they were to cut Jefferson. He will also take up roughly $700,000 worth of the Bengals cap space, according to Over The Cap.
Jefferson won’t hit free agency until following the 2021 season.
Jefferson was a very highly recruited high school football player, and for good reason. He is an incredibly athletic linebacker, but it didn’t translate right away at Texas. In fact, it took a coaching change that had Jefferson play more of an attacking role to see Jefferson start turning into the player many thought he’d be out of high school.
He finished his career with 231 tackles (26 for a loss), 13 sacks and two forced fumbles. He also had a very impressive combine that showed off his incredible athletic ability, but the major thing holding him back was teams feeling like he struggled to diagnose plays quickly enough. There are also questions of if he has the instincts necessary to be an every-down linebacker.
The Bengals felt confident enough in his ability to take him with the 78th-overall selection, and he is now the newest addition to the youth movement at the linebacker position.
Playing time for Jefferson isn’t a guarantee even with Vontaze Burfict scheduled to miss the first four games due to suspension. The team has Nick Vigil returning from injury who was a starter last season.
The aforementioned Brown will get playing time as well, and other young linebackers Brandon Bell, Jordan Evans, Hardy Nickerson Jr. and Chris Worley. Not to mention Cincinnati keeps talking about playing Carl Lawson more at linebacker as well.
It is clear that Jefferson will have to earn any playing time he gets. A quicker route to getting on the field will be special teams, though. His great size and speed should make him a real problem for opposing returners.
Jefferson should also get some playing time during man-to-man situations in coverage since he is pretty good in coverage. His straight-line speed should also make him pretty valuable as a blitzer in those same obvious passing downs. This is obviously just a starting point, and it give Jefferson something to grow on.
It is extremely rare that a team will part ways with a third-round pick that they just drafted. As long as Jefferson keeps up with the competition, he should be on the roster. It also helps that the team has an extra linebacker spot considering the Burfict suspension.
Roster odds: 90 percent