While it is hard to pinpoint that many glaring needs on the Eagles roster, it is worth noting some prospects Eagles fans should be interested in heading into the season. As we get closer to the beginning of college football, I want to highlight some of the more intriguing prospects in the country. Here's a preview of a former top recruit shifting into a new scheme.
Name: Malik Jefferson
Measurements: 6-3, 232 Pounds
2016 Stats: 62 Tackles, 8.5 Tackles For a Loss, 5.5 Sacks, 3 PBUs, 1 Forced Fumble
Malik Jefferson made headlines when he decided to join Charlie Strong's Longhorns as the number 10 recruit in the country and the top rated recruit in the state of Texas. The athletic linebacker was easily Texas' most talented defender in his two years there and the coaching staff wanted to utilize his athleticism as much as possible to help the unit. Jefferson was playing inside linebacker, outside linebacker, edge rusher and covering the slot. Wherever his athletic ability was needed, he was put there.
Even when he was not playing on the edge, the Longhorns asked Jefferson to rush the passer quite often. After all, you need your best athletes pursuing the quarterback and he probably has the most juice on the team. Here his burst is evident on a delay blitz where he quickly fakes the drop into coverage only to bring down the quarterback moments later.
These are the moments where Jefferson most impresses. He not only shows the discipline to read the option correctly, but his ability to break down in space and secure a tackle on a big player like DeShone Kizer is impressive.
The issue with Jefferson is that because he is not asked to play one position, there is a sense that he has yet to master any position. While it is evident he is talented, it just has not fully come together for him as a player yet.
Playing linebacker is sometimes as simple as "See ball, get ball" and Jefferson has a tendency to be just a moment to slow to diagnose the play and in those moments he can completely miss an opportunity. Not only that, but he is blocked out of plays way too easily.
Considering the amount of times Jefferson is asked to rush the passer, it is worrying how often he just makes no impact at all once a lineman makes contact with him.
Here Jefferson waits to "catch" the running back instead of attacking the line of scrimmage to make the play. He is greeted by a blocker and then is too late to get off the block which results in a poor, high tackle attempt on Samaje Perine.
Jefferson, overall, is a very frustrating prospect to watch, but there needs to be some nuance to it. The Texas unit was an abysmal group last year and a lot was asked of a sophomore linebacker. The reality is that while he did underperform, he could thrive in a more defined role under Tom Herman's coaching staff. Jefferson is still a very gifted athlete, as he tested incredibly well out of high school. While it all isn't there yet, this could be the year Jefferson puts it together big time.
Pro Comparison: Vincent Rey, Cincinnati Bengals
Why should Eagles fans be interested?
Pretty simple. Mychal Kendricks is out of town sooner than later and Nigel Bradham is going into his final year of his deal. While Bradham can and likely will be brought back, there is still a starting linebacker spot open heading into next spring. Jefferson might end up putting it together to be a top tier linebacking prospect and Eagles fans should keep an eye on the athletic junior this season to see if he progresses.
What games will be pivotal for Jefferson?
Jefferson's season starts out with a sneaky challenge in facing Maryland (September 2nd) with their explosive running back, Ty Johnson. Jefferson will need to be disciplined to help prevent big plays from the Terps running game. Jefferson will face a similarly tall task in slowing down Ronald Jones and the USC Trojans (September 16th). Jones is a home run hitter at running back and Sam Darnold will command a prolific passing game. As a run defender, pass rusher and coverage guy, Jefferson will need to be on point. Later in the season, Jefferson and the Longhorns will face one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Mason Rudolph and his Oklahoma State Cowboys (October 21st). Jefferson will be a big factor in covering the middle of the field and keeping the running game at bay.