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Chargers 90-in-90: LB Malik Jefferson and getting back on track

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The former high school linebacker of the year has had a rocky start to his professional career.

Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

If there’s a career to the NFL that any linebacker would want to follow, it’s Malik Jefferson’s.

A native of Mesquite, Texas, Jefferson was essentially a star since the moment he stepped on the field. People knew he was good, but like many other pee-wee football players and Pop Warner stars, you had to wait and see how he evolved and if that success would continue into his high school days, especially in the state of Texas, where high school football is the biggest deal on earth.

As a sophomore at Poteet High School in 2012, Jefferson was actually playing defensive back. When you take a look at the year-end stat sheet, however, you would have thought he was rushing the passer. His final line that season included a career-high 105 tackles and 24 tackles-for-loss with seven sacks, five forced fumbles, and four blocked kicks. I mean, 24 TFLs? Holy moly.

In his final two years, Jefferson switched to linebacker and was all gas and no brakes. He totaled 174 tackles, 34 tackles-for-loss, 20 sacks, five more forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and another four blocked kicks. Following his senior season in 2014, Jefferson was a five-star recruit, invited to play in the Under Armour All-American Game, and was awarded the Dick Butkus Award which is given annually to the best high school linebacker in the country. He inevitably decided to stay close to home and committed to play for Charlie Strong at the University of Texas over LSU, Texas A&M, and UCLA.

After enrolling early in January of 2015, Jefferson once again made an impact early and often. In 11 games as a true freshman, he totaled 61 stops with seven TFLs, 2.5 sacks, three pass breakups, a forced fumble, and one scoop-n-score on a fumble recovery. He was named a Freshman All-American by ESPN and was honored as the Big 12’s Defensive Freshman of the Year. His sophomore season was more of the same as his first on campus. He finished with 60 tackles with career-highs in tackles-for-loss (9) and sacks (6.5) along with two pass breakups and a forced fumble.

His final year in Austin was his coming out party and set the stage for him to forgo his final year of eligibility. Jefferson amassed 110 total tackles with 10 tackles-for-loss and four sacks. en route to being named the Big 12’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year, First-Team All-Big 12, and a Second-Team All-American.

He soon after entered the NFL Draft and was touted as one of the nation’s top linebacker prospects. At that year’s combine, Jefferson measured in at 6’2 and 236 pounds. Across the board he performed among the best at his position, including a 4.52 in the forty, 7.12 in the 3-cone, and 27 reps on the bench press.

With the 78th pick in the third round, the Cincinnati Bengals selected Jefferson as their third defensive player picked in a row following safety Jessie Bates and defensive end Sam Hubbard.

As a rookie, Jefferson played sparingly on defense and on special teams. He played in 10 total games before ending up on injured reserve on December 18 with a foot injury. In a surprise move, the Bengals cut Jefferson in August of 2019 as part of the team’s final cutdown to 53 prior to the regular season. Some have speculated that the injury, combined with a lack of confidence in his ability to grasp the defense, is what caused the team to move on from the recent day-two pick.

Jefferson was picked up off waivers the very next day by the Cleveland Browns and lasted with the team until November 12 when he was released. About two weeks later he was signed by the Chargers to their practice squad before signing a futures contract on December 30th.

In a recent press conference, general manager Tom Telesco mentioned that the Chargers liked Jefferson when he was coming out of the draft and they were stoked that they were able to sign him. In a separate conversation with the media, head coach Anthony Lynn mentioned that Jefferson will get the chance to play mostly MIKE in the Chargers defense.

It’s more than likely Jefferson plays mostly on special teams in 2020 but there’s a real chance for him to stick with this team due to the shallow depth at linebacker and the team’s established favor towards him. He exhibited excellent coverage skills and the ability to make tackles in the open field so I think the rub with Jefferson may very well be the struggle with the playbooks. Either way, I think he landed in an excellent situation here with the Chargers a where he can potentially get back to making an impact for his team.

(Note: I wrote this entire article before remembering I structured the 90-in-90 posts differently last year so enjoy this but they’ll be different from now on and I apologize for being an idiot.)