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Malik Jefferson could offer the Seahawks the depth at linebacker they desperately need

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NCAA Football: Texas at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks have lacked depth at linebacker for several seasons now. It’s something I’ve written about multiple times but just to reiterate:

In 2017, Wagner played 93-percent of the defensive snaps despite missing chunks of games with a hamstring injury, while Wright logged 87-percent despite missing an entire game. 2016 was even worse: Wagner played 99.4-percent while Wright played 97.4-percent of snaps. Getting contributors who can spell Wagner and Wright throughout games is crucial if the duo are to remain fresh and get closer to their 2013 workload (83 and 71-percent respectively).

With the need for a linebacker in mind, former Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson would make sense for the Seahawks for several reasons. He’s athletic, running a 4.39 40-yard dash, a 4.19 short shuttle and a 40-inch vertical at 215 pounds at Nike’s The Opening - granted, he’s now 236 pounds - he’s able to play both sides of the formation, and should be available in the late day two/early day three range when linebacker is likely to be considered by Seattle.

Versus Inside Run

Against the run between the tackles, Jefferson plays with good anticipation, diagnosing the play and correctly filling gaps. At the second level, he’s able to disengage from combo blocks with ease or avoid the block all together and make the tackle.

Jefferson possesses the athletic ability and short area quickness to dart into the backfield and collect tackles for losses. (Or slow down the RB, as he does in the first clip here.)

A major flaw in his game as a run defender is a tendency to go for the big hit rather than wrapping up, an issue that can lead to large gains.

Versus Outside Run

As the defender responsible for setting the edge, Jefferson plays aggressively and decisively. He keeps contain regularly and would be able to play regularly at either the SAM or WILL linebacker spot.

Off the line of scrimmage, Jefferson plays with great football intelligence, taking good angles to the ball carrier. He flows to the ball quickly and rarely wastes movement in the wrong direction.

Zone Coverage

When Jefferson dropped into coverage for the Longhorns, it was most often into the hook/curl zone, similar to what Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are regularly responsible for in Seattle’s defense. He is fluid in his backpedal and able to open his hips and turn to run with the receiver breaking through his zone.

Man Coverage

Although he predominately dropped into zones when in coverage, Jefferson did show up guarding the slot in man coverage on occasion. At the line of scrimmage he was patient in turning to move with his man, downfield he looked comfortable moving in space. Modern linebackers must be able to guard backs and tight ends one-on-one and while I wouldn’t ask Jefferson to do it regularly, he absolutely has the athletic ability and movement skills to do it.

Blitzing

Jefferson has terrific initial burst either as a blitzer or closing on the quarterback after spying.

He didn’t disguise his blitzes particularly well, but made up for it with good closing speed.

Although he’s a safe tackler against the run, there were a few whiffs when he arrived at the quarterback — he has to finish in these situations, regardless of the impressive closing speed.

Overall, Jefferson is an athletic linebacker who could play all three downs at the next level. He displayed good football intelligence and was vocal before the snap on Texas’s defense. As a rotational linebacker in year one, he’ll be able to contribute immediately on special teams and will offer a team a versatile depth option. Jefferson has the height-weight-speed of a modern linebacker and could prove to be good value on the draft’s second or third day.