Jackson Jeffcoat may be the most talented player in our countdown. He may be the most productive player in our countdown thus far. And he may have the best NFL prospects of any player in our countdown. But much like the #5 player in our countdown, Mike Davis, Jeffcoat finds himself on this list due to a mix of personally-created issues and external results.
As part of a pair of five-star defensive recruits to commit to Texas right before national signing day in 2010 (alongside Jordan Hicks), Jeffcoat came in with all of the expectations to be another elite Texas defensive end. And playing opposite Sam Acho as a freshman, Jeffcoat got off to a promising start, notching several tackles for loss and displaying the refined pass rushing skills expected of the son of a former NFL defensive star. However, in what would become the first of several season-defining injuries, Jeffcoat would sprain an ankle that would cost him five ames in the heart of the disappointing 2010 season.
He'd return and have a dominant 2011 season as one of the key cogs that led Manny Diaz's first season at Texas. The defense would finish top 10 in several national defensive metrics and Jeffcoat's pass rushing skills played no small part in the efforts. A torn left pectoral muscle suffered late in the 2011 season would not slow Jeffcoat down, as he posted dominant efforts against the Aggies on Thanksgiving and Cal in the Holiday Bowl. Offseason surgery then kept Jeffcoat out of spring practice in 2012, but he looked to build upon the sophomore season as the defense at large looked ready to be among the elite in the country.
And then the 2012 season happened. Jeffcoat did what he could to slow the disastrous roll the defense would find itself in, but his 11 tackles for loss and 4 sacks through six games were not enough to keep the defense afloat. And as part of the damage from the 2012 implosion against Oklahoma, Jeffcoat ruptured his right pectoral (opposite the one he had surgically repaired in the offseason) and lost the second half of his season. Despite the efforts of young upstarts like Cedric Reed, the defense did not significantly turn around down the stretch, and serious questions linger about the entirety of the defense heading into 2013.
Jeffcoat appearing on this list is the function of two reasons. For one, Jeffcoat's injury history leave doubts about whether or not he'll be on the field enough to make the impact his talent dictates he's capable of producing after missing 12 games in his first three seasons. Secondly, Jeffcoat is now one of the senior leaders (if not THE leader) of a defense that is coming off the school's worst statistical defensive performance, ever. Among others, it falls on Jeffcoat to right the ship and get Texas playing championship level defense.
The pieces are in place for Texas to make a championship run, and the defense remains the biggest question the team has coming into the season. As a former five-star prospect who is now a senior leader, the burden falls on Jeffcoat's shoulders.