Philadelphia Eagles: Malik Jefferson is a perfect fit in Philly

(Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images) /

With Nigel Bradham set to become a free agent, the Philadelphia Eagles could find his replacement in Texas Longhorns linebacker Malik Jefferson.

Though the University of Texas‘ 2017 season was largely a disappointment under first-year head coach Tom Herman, finishing sixth in the Big 12 Conference with a 7-6 record, one Longhorn who truly shined through the team’s struggles was junior linebacker Malik Jefferson.

Jefferson, a four-star recruit from Mesquite, Texas, was in high demand coming out of high school, as he was ranked the third best outside linebacker in the nation by ESPN. With scholarship offers for high profile schools like UCLA, Texas A&M, and Alabama, Jefferson ultimately decided to play his college ball close to home and committed to join then Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong‘s second recruiting class in Austin.

A signing that paid almost immediate dividends.

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The 2014 High School Butkus Award winner for the nation’s best linebacker, Jefferson became an immediate starter for the Longhorns and went on to be named the Big 12’s Defensive Freshman of the Year as the team’s middle linebacker. In only 11 games of action, Jefferson made his presence know as the quarterback of Strong’s defense, recording 61 total tackles, 2.5 tackles sacks and a forced fumble as a true freshman.

And Jefferson was far from a one year wonder.

Over his next two seasons in Austin, Jefferson appeared in 23 games for Longhorns and was an impact player regardless of the scheme. After spending the first two years of his college career as a read-and-react inside linebacker in Strong’s attacking 4-3 scheme, arguably his natural position, Jefferson transitioned into a rush outside linebacker in Herman’s 3-4 scheme. Though not a natural edge rusher, Jefferson remained consistently effective in his new position and proved competent against both the run and the pass on the outside, finishing the season with 110 total tackles, four sacks and an impressive 10 tackles for a loss in only 12 games.

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While he did play incredibly well on the outside in Herman’s 3-4 scheme, in a role that saw the linebacker taking on opposing players at the line of scrimmage, the 240 pound ex-Longhorn is almost exclusively being looked at as stand up linebacker by professional scout, for both 4-3 team or a 3-4 team and is viewed as a player who could very well develop into one of the league’s hardest-hitting weakside linebackers.

Though he’s leaving school with one additional season of eligibility left, Jefferson finished out his career in Austin with 231 total tackles, 13 sacks, and a defensive touchdown, and will likely remain a fan favorite as he transitions into the professional game.

Philadelphia Eagles draft Malik Jefferson
Philadelphia Eagles draft Malik Jefferson /

Why he’s a fit with the Philadelphia Eagles

On paper, there may not be a better scheme fit in the entire draft for the Philadelphia Eagles than Malik Jefferson.

At 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, Jefferson is the perfect size to play linebacker in Jim Schwartz‘s attacking 4-3 scheme, and his experience playing in a very similar scheme in college should only help to smooth out his transition into the NFL.

While the team already has an incredibly talented, hyper-athletic Longhorn linebacker manning the middle of the field in Jordan Hicks, Jefferson could be a perfect complement to Hicks on the weakside, a position that would highlight his natural athleticism and tackling abilities. Though Schwartz seldom rushes more than four players on any given down, leaving his linebackers to read-and-react in coverage, he did utilize Mychal Kendricks as a rusher selectively throughout the season to great results, and in Jefferson, he could add yet another hard-hitting fastball to his stable of rushers.

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If current starter Nigel Bradham does decide to leave South Philly as a free agent, or the team ultimately rewards Kendricks for his services by trading him to a team where he could be a full-time player, the Eagles could easily use Jefferson in their base defensive package as an in-the-box defender who could drop the hammer on opposing running backs as a rookie, and allow him to develop alongside Hicks for the foreseeable future. Though he may not see the field much as a rookie if the team’s linebacking core remains intact, 2017 proved just how important it is to have depth across the board, especially with Hicks’ injury history, and in Jefferson, the Eagles could have of the league’s best insurance policies.

If Jefferson performs well at the combine, he could continue to rise up draft boards across the league, but currently, it seems unlikely that the former Longhorn will be selected higher than the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, a round that the Eagles do not have a pick in. While Jefferson will almost definitely be available at 32 when the team picks in the first round it would be unwise to reach on a player just because he’s a scheme fit, as opposed to taking the best player available, just ask Howie Roseman‘s 2014 first round prize, Marcus Smith.

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Baring this ascension up draft boards Jefferson is an ideal trade down candidate for the Eagles, as the team could likely trade their first-round pick, and it’s fifth-year option, for a high second round pick and an additional pick in the mid-rounds of the draft. Though this move obviously has its risks, if the team wants to remain competitive they will need to continue to accrue young, ascending players, and trading back could help to give the team more draft capital in a strong 2018 NFL Draft.

But of all the players whose names will be on the board at the 32nd pick, there isn’t a player who’s a better fit in Philly than Malik Jefferson. A truly versatile linebacker, Jefferson can play inside and out in the team’s 4-3 defense, could be a four-core special teams player, and could even be used as a rush end on obvious passing downs, and may simply be too good for the team to pass up in the first round.

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