Career Recap: Over his career in coaching, Charlie Strong has been a great recruiter who has developed a lot of great high school athletes into first-round NFL talents. Strong produced a ton of first-round picks from his defense with the Florida Gators, and he followed that up with a plethora of prospects from his time at Louisville. Even though Strong is now at South Florida after a short stay at Texas, he left behind some good talent for the Longhorns new coaching staff, and Jefferson is one of those impressive Texas defenders who has the ability to play on Sundays.
Jefferson made his way onto the field as a freshman in 2015 and totaled 61 tackles with seven for a loss, 2.5 sacks, three passes broken up and one forced fumble. He was a bigger presence than the numbers illustrate. In 2016, Jefferson recorded 59 tackles with 5.5 sacks and three passes broken up. The numbers don't illustrate how good of a linebacker he was for Texas. The Longhorns moved him around in their defense and often lined him up on the edge. As a result, teams went away from Jefferson a fair amount.
2017 Season Outlook: Texas will see the typical Big XII offenses that resemble arena football. The first big test for Jefferson as a junior will be taking on USC in Week 3. Quarterback Sam Darnold and running back Ronald Jones II will challenge Jefferson.
In mid-October, Jefferson will see a tough offense with rival Oklahoma. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is a challenge for defenses with his run-pass option attack. The Sooners lost skill position talent, but they always seem to reload with good players immediately.
Baylor, West Virginia and Texas Tech will challenge Jefferson with their point-producing spread offenses. Illustrating pass-coverage skills against them would help Jefferson.
Skill-Set Summary: There is no doubt that Jefferson has a NFL skill set. He is a fast linebacker who covers a ton of ground. Jefferson has instincts and shows skill to read his keys to get in position to make plays. He has a developed body with the size and strength to play at the next level.
In run defense, Jefferson is at his best when he can use his speed to hunt down ball-carriers. He is fast to shoot gaps and fire into the backfield or the flat. Jefferson tackles well in the open field, is a physical hitter, and generally takes good angles. He has the skill set to produce more with the potential to make an impact as a run defender.
In pass coverage, Jefferson shows a nice ability to flow in zone coverage. He reads plays quickly and picks up receivers who come into his area. As a junior, it would be good to see how Jefferson does in man coverage on tight ends and backs out of the backfield. He is a good blitzer using his speed to fly into the backfield to get pressure. Showing good coverage skills will be critical for Jefferson's stock as non-pass-rushing linebackers have a hard time being first-round picks, especially if they aren't impressive in coverage.
Aside from showing more pass-coverage skills for the NFL, Jefferson has some other areas for improvement. He has a tendency to tackle high, and that could lead to more missed tackles as a pro. Jefferson also needs to get better at taking on and shedding blocks. He does well when he is free to run, but he needs to take on with more physicality and use strength to shed. The power rushing attacks of some NFL teams could give him problems. Jefferson also could show more away from the ball in terms of hustle and effort to get in on more plays.
In the NFL, Jefferson would fit best as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 or as a Will (linebacker) in a 4-3 defense. He has the size to be a Mike (middle) linebacker in a 4-3, but would have to get better at taking on and shedding blocks for that role. Jefferson is at his best when he doesn't have to fit blockers and can be a run-and-chase linebacker. He has a lot of upside to develop.
2018 NFL Draft Expectations: Entering his junior season, Jefferson has early round potential and sources that have down advance work on the 2018 class say that Jefferson has a first-round skill set. The question will be if he plays up to his skill set in 2017.