As Texas Longhorns junior linebacker Malik Jefferson contemplates the difficult decision about whether to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay is busy opining about Jefferson’s choice.
In a Tuesday column co-written with Mel Kiper, the two answered 25 questions about the upcoming draft. When asked about an underclassman who could use another year of development, McShay pointed to the state’s No. 1 prospect in the 2015 class:
At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, he has NFL size and an NFL skill set. But he has technique deficiencies and doesn't play to his size. He needs to get stronger and continue to improve his ability to diagnose and attack plays.
Beyond the actual merits of McShay’s evaluation, there are other important factors that will dictate whether Jefferson decides to leave school — his family’s financial situation, the risk of injury, and the risk of not improving significantly next season.
The latter area is probably unlikely given Jefferson’s growth in 2017 after the coaching staff challenged him to improve his lower-body strength, but it is a risk. Jefferson is currently dealing with turf toe and though he could litigate any potential injuries next season during the pre-draft process, ending up slowed by a nagging injury in 2018 certainly wouldn’t help improve his stock.
The other concerns are more significant, especially when combined with the fact that there are NFL teams that will take a chance on the Mesquite Poteet product simply because of his athleticism.
Jefferson’s physical tools significantly decrease the risk of going pro and the risks of returning would seem the outweigh the benefits of returning, no matter what McShay thinks.
As repeatedly demonstrated during the recruiting process, Jefferson is a remarkably mature and thoughtful young man supported by an excellent family — if he decides it’s in his best interests to leave for the NFL, there’s no reason to question it.
Furthermore, there’s plenty of reason to believe that he’ll improve quickly at the next level when he doesn’t have to split his focus between football and school.