In most years, Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson would be one of the two or three best safeties in this class, but a glut of solid prospects at the position will lead quality prospects like Jefferson to slide into the later rounds.
Regardless of where he is eventually drafted, does the California native have what it takes to make the transition to the NFL?
+ Good downhill player against the run
+ Fluid hips
+ Excellent ball skills
- Limited top-end speed
- Short, average length
- Little year-to-year development
One of the biggest knocks on Jefferson as a prospect is his stature. He is a lean 5'11", 211 pounds with 31.625" arms.
His size did not make a massive difference in his college production, but there will be a handful of teams that will take him off their board because he does not meet their height requirements for the position.
Additionally, there are concerns regarding Jefferson's top-end speed—he posted a mediocre 4.75 time in the 40-yard dash at the combine. Conversely, he does have fluid hips, can change direction well and has an explosive burst.
Tony was arrested in 2011 for interfering with police while teammate Kenny Stills was in the process of getting a DUI (the two appear to be close friends).
There was also a WalterFootball.com report that attacked Jefferson's practice habits. According to Walter Football, "scouts are saying that Jefferson has been getting trashed by some of his former coaches for horrible practice habits and a lack of work ethic in the weight room."
While there is no concrete evidence of such bad habits (Jefferson and Stills have refuted the reports on Twitter), it bears watching as Jefferson goes through the interview process.
From an on-field perspective, Jefferson is a good communicator and has good instincts—it appears as if handling success is an issue for the young safety.
Playing the Ball
Despite his shorter stature and lacking elite length, Jefferson is better than expected when the ball is in the air. He can catch the ball, but what is most impressive is how well he times his jumps, exhibited by this pass breakup against TCU.
Still, fair or not, Jefferson's underwhelming size will limit his ability to play the ball against much taller and more physically dominant NFL receivers.
This is an area where Jefferson separates himself from other prospects in this class. He has loose hips that allow him to run with slot receivers, as evidenced in this play in a 2011 game against Texas. Here, he is covering Jaxton Shipley (brother of NFL receiver Jordan Shipley).
Shipley is set to run a slant. Jefferson, not yet knowing the route, remains square to Shipley with his feet facing forward.
Here is where Jefferson's hip flexibility comes into play. He is able to flip his hips nearly 180 degrees in a single step—a telling indicator of flexibility. He wastes no movement with extra steps, allowing him to stay plastered to Shipley.
Jefferson stays in good position, having awareness of where Shipley is while watching the quarterback's eyes.
Jefferson overpowers Shipley with the ball in the air and is able to come away with the interception.
All in one play, Jefferson showed flexibility, positioning, footwork and ball skills—all traits that translate well to the NFL.
A fluid athlete with excellent play-recognition skills, Jefferson is a comfortable player in deep zone coverage. His closing speed is phenomenal and can deliver the big hit when given the chance. He also has a very good backpedal, and his loose hips allow him to change direction with ease.
However, there are lingering questions as to whether or not Jefferson has NFL-caliber top-end speed. While he has a very good closing burst, there are too many instances where he is a beat too late getting to the play.
Generally, Jefferson is a smart player and makes the correct read on the ball—but there are a handful of plays each game where his eye discipline breaks down, giving up a huge play.
Here, Jefferson bites hard on a play-action fake, losing track of a receiver running through his zone. Tony does not have the top-end speed to catch up with the receiver and limit the damage of this long touchdown:
There is not much not to like about Jefferson's tackling ability, as he led his team in tackles in 2012. He takes good angles and despite his smaller stature has the ability to deliver big hits when the opportunity arises. As evidenced by this highlighted play, he is tremendously explosive downfield and can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time to make plays near the line of scrimmage:
However, as explosive as he is, he tends to be a bit linear in his approach, which leads to him lunging and missing some easier tackles.
@ryanalf17 outstanding closing speed in a straight line but he plays on train tracks a lot— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) April 4, 2013
For example, Jefferson slides over to cover a receiver in place of a blitzing cornerback. He is unable to control his speed, causing him to lunge and miss the tackle while the receiver picks up a big chunk of yardage.
Most of the time, Jefferson is as solid as they come in the tackling department and in run support—but he is due for a handful of plays per game that lead to huge gains for the opposing offense.
Future Role/Scheme Versatility
While he filled a lot of roles well for Oklahoma playing both in deep zone and covering in the slot while making plays in the run game, his speed and size deficiencies limits his role playing safety in the NFL.
When in deep zone, he was usually paired with another safety in Cover 2 (as opposed to playing as a center fielder in a Cover 1 scheme). This is a role he should embrace in the NFL, as covering half the field masks his lack of speed.
His short stature will limit what he can do against some of the bigger tight ends, but his athleticism, physicality and change-of-direction makes him a good fit covering slot receivers.