(Editor's Note: While the start of the 2018 NFL Draft isn't until April 26, it's never too early to profile some of the key participants. The staff of DallasCowboys.com intends to preview the landscape of the draft's top prospect, with an emphasis on possible Cowboys draft picks – from the first round to the last. Today's featured player is Texas' Malik Jefferson.)
- Name: Malik Jefferson
- Position: Linebacker
- Height/Weight:6-2 / 236
- Honors:Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2017; second-team All-American in 2017; two-time All-Big 12; two-time semifinalist for the Butkus Award, given to the best linebacker in the country.
- Key Stat: After posting a combined 123 tackles in his first two years as a starter, Jefferson racked up 110 stops in his All-American junior season with the Longhorns.
Where He's Projected:
Most draft observers believe Jefferson will go off the board somewhere in the second or third round due to his outstanding ability to run and make tackles. His 4.3-second 40-yard dash ranked third among all linebackers at the NFL Scouting Combine.
How He Helps The Cowboys:
Linebacker depth is among the most pressing needs remaining this offseason, even with Jaylon Smith further and further removed from his devastating 2016 knee injury. Departed free agent Anthony Hitchens played three positions effectively for four seasons in Dallas, including the primary backup to Sean Lee. Jefferson has the speed and range to play middle linebacker and the weak side in a 4-3 like the Cowboys' system.
- Had an up-and-down career at Texas. If he can develop some consistency overall, he has a chance to be a very productive player.
- Shows initial quickness on his reactions. Has to be careful not to get hooked on blocks. Tends to lunge as a tackler.
- He will guess on the fit. I'm not sure how well he sees things. Will take false steps and then have to rally back in position. Tends to get caught in trash.
- Doesn't always play in balance. Has to have a clean path or he's in trouble. Can get to the edge when he's clean.
- Ability to run is not a problem. When on the move he can make plays. Will retrace his steps to get in on the tackle.
- Needs to be more consistent wrapping up. Hit-and-miss as he plays.
- Movement skills give him a chance in coverage. His pro day showed his ability to turn and run with his man.