Overview: Tony Jefferson is a 25 year old strong safety that has spent his entire four year career in Arizona. Coming out of Oklahoma in 2013 Jefferson went undrafted and was overlooked in favor of players such as Johnathan Cyprien, Matt Elam and the twenty other safeties that were drafted in his class. After starting nearly half the Cardinals games between 2014 and 2015 Jefferson became a full time starter for the Cards in 2016 and he did not disappoint. He recorded 96 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles in 15 games before suffering a grade 2 MCL sprain that ended his 2016 campaign. Despite ending the season on injured reserve the knee injury is viewed as minor and shouldn't present any problems moving forward.
Pros: Jefferson is a spark plug. When he arrives to make tackles he appears to be more of a heat seeking missile than a football player. He plays with leverage and always knows the right angle to take to get to the ball the fastest way possible. He shows more range than most strong safeties and usually shows no issues with covering tight ends and running backs out of the backfield and semi regularly lines up as a deep safety. With what is either a strong football IQ, a natural feel for the game, or a combination of both Jefferson regularly makes the correct read while in coverage and is rarely fooled by offensive concepts. Jefferson is a twitchy athlete that provides explosiveness and big play potential every time he steps on the field. At 25 years old Jefferson should be an effective player in the NFL for at least the next half decade.
Cons: Jefferson obviously shouldn't have gone undrafted in 2013, but teams did have their reasons for passing on the torpedo like safety. At 5'11'' and 212 lbs. Jefferson was on the smallish side for a strong safety. Combine his size with the fact that he ran a jaw droopingly poor 40 yard dash (4.75 seconds) at the NFL Combine and you get a lot of scouts that are scared to pull the trigger. So, Jefferson isn't exactly a prototypical strong safety when it comes to top end speed or size. When Jefferson makes mental mistakes (which is rare) he doesn't always have the speed to make up for lost ground when covering wide receivers, tight ends, or even running backs out of the backfield.
A fit for the Jaguars? Absolutely. Jefferson may not be as physically imposing as the Jaguars current starting strong safety John Cyprien, but he more than makes up for it with his massive hits and proper use of angles and leverage. While Cyprien is faster than Jefferson in a straight 40 yard dash, Jefferson is a much more twitchy athlete and has better short area bursts on the football field than does Cyprien. Jefferson is certainly better in coverage than Cyprien and is close to or better than Cyp in run defense. In my estimation the Jaguars have three legitimate options that will not lead to a dip in productivity or level of play when it comes to their starting strong safety in 2017. Bringing back Cyprien is one of those options. He is a monster in the box, showed improvement in coverage, and was a key player in one of the better secondaries in football last season. The Jaguars other real options are to try and pursue Eric Berry or Tony Jefferson if they become available via free agency. Both Berry and Jefferson play for teams that have a lot of big decisions to make in the coming weeks regarding contracts, and both have a legit possibility of ending up on the open market. In my estimation both players would be an upgrade over Cyprien - Berry by a land slide and Jefferson by a hair because of his ability in coverage and his big play ability. If the Jaguars fail to resign Cyprien and miss out on both Berry and Jefferson then there will almost certainly be a drop in the level of play and productivity at the strong safety position for the Jaguars in 2017. If this happens the Jags may look to safeties Jamal Adams or Malik Hooker early in the draft.
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