Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat isn't quite the prospect South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney projects to be for the 2014 NFL draft. But like Clowney would be one year later, Jeffcoat was one of the nation's top recruits coming out of high school in 2010.
Throughout the months of June and July, I will be looking ahead to the 2014 draft here at Bleacher Report and breaking down 10 of the top defensive linemen in the upcoming draft class.
The series began with a breakdown of Clowney, who is widely considered to be the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2014 draft class. In the series' second installment, we will take a look at Jeffcoat, who is also one of college football's most hyped pass-rushers entering his senior season.
Jeffcoat, whose father Jim registered 102.5 sacks in 15 NFL seasons, was ranked as the nation's No. 2 recruit by ESPN, No. 7 by Scout and No. 12 by Rivals in 2010. His draft stock, however, isn't nearly as high as Clowney's.
Jeffcoat has a great pedigree and has racked up 29.5 tackles for loss in his first three seasons at Texas. That said, he must answer many questions about his game in his senior season to become a first-round draft pick.
Jeffcoat has the size and athleticism to play defensive end in a 4-3 defense, or outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
He is listed at 6'5" by Texas’ official website and has good length. NFL teams will likely want Jeffcoat to add 10-to-15 pounds of muscle mass to increase his current listed weight of 245 pounds, while expecting him to maintain his athleticism.
Jeffcoat is a nimble and well-rounded athlete, but he lacks the explosiveness of a top pass-rushing prospect.
Jeffcoat has the speed in pursuit to get to the ball whether it is in the backfield or out in space. He is a smooth and quick open-field runner who can track plays downfield well past the line of scrimmage.
He moves well laterally, and has a fluid backpedal when he drops back into coverage. He also displays the agility to side-step blockers.
One of the traits that stands out about Jeffcoat is his balance. Cut blocking is not a typically effective way to block Jeffcoat, as he does a good job staying upright and going over cut blocks.
Jeffcoat's playmaking ability is limited by his lack of burst off the line of scrimmage. He does not have the explosive first step needed to blow by blockers off the line.
As a result, Jeffcoat does not blow up many plays in the backfield unless he is unblocked off the line of scrimmage or the play is slow to develop. He needs to become more technically sound, especially as a pass-rusher, to offset his subpar explosiveness.
Rushing the Passer
Jeffcoat has not become an elite pass-rusher at the collegiate level—he has an average of .5 sack per game for his collegiate career (13.5 sacks in 27 games). To become an impact pass-rusher at the next level, his game must develop significantly.
There are some things he does well as an edge rusher. He is good at dipping his shoulder to get leverage against a left tackle, and he has the speed to bring quick pressure if he establishes an angle to the quarterback.
Many of Jeffcoat's sacks have come as the result of being unblocked by the offensive line or by coming in after pressure has already come from the opposite side. He has not shown that he can consistently break free from blockers.
Jeffcoat uses his hands actively but does not win with them often. He has a solid rip move, but his pass-rush moves are mostly unrefined and ineffective.
To be an effective pass-rusher at the next level, Jeffcoat must become stronger with his hands and expand his arsenal of pass-rush moves.
Although Jeffcoat is not a great speed rusher, he still has a tendency to most often try to rush around the offensive tackle. He occasionally rushes inside from the 3-technique spot, but does not have the outside-inside moves in his arsenal to come across the face of a blocker and get a lane to the backfield.
Jeffcoat is a solid but not overpowering bull-rusher. He does a good job of getting his hands into the pads of an offensive lineman and pushing them back to bring pressure toward the quarterback.
But like his edge rush, Jeffcoat's bull-rush is often limited just to pressure. He does not exhibit the power to drive offensive linemen over and break free to the quarterback.
Defending the Run
At this point in his development, Jeffcoat is much more refined as a run defender than he is as a pass-rusher.
Jeffcoat does a good job of setting the edge and holding his gap to force run plays inside or outside. While he may not overpower many blockers and drive them back into runners, he does a good job of getting physical with his opponent and holding his ground at the line of scrimmage.
Jeffcoat has good gap discipline, and his instincts for playing option runs and fakes in the backfield have steadily improved. He does not typically get exposed by being fooled or abandoning his assignment.
He is good at moving along the line of scrimmage and getting inside to make run stops in the middle of the field. He can find lanes up the middle to the backfield or track plays downfield into the middle from the edge.
Tackling is one of Jeffcoat's strengths. He is a sound tackler who does a very good job wrapping up his opponent and driving him to the ground without allowing the ball-carrier to drive forward for extra yardage.
Jeffcoat is a good open-field runner with a strong motor, and he combines those traits with his tackling ability to make plays downfield. He has the ability to trail plays well downfield and track down ball-carriers for tackles from behind, like he did on the following 20-yard run after catch by Oklahoma State running back Josh Stewart last season.
This play starts out with Jeffcoat being neutralized from the play. His spin move at the line of scrimmage was ineffective and the quarterback threw the ball to the other side of the field.
As Stewart caught the pass and took off diagonally across the field, Jeffcoat showed his ability to quickly recover. By the time Jeffcoat got back to the line of scrimmage, Stewart was only three yards ahead of him upfield.
Jeffcoat continued running through the play upfield and out to the left sideline, and eventually catches up enough to lunge forward and take down Stewart from behind with a clean tackle.
Like his pass-rushing, Jeffcoat's biggest weakness as a run defender is his lack of counter moves. On run plays toward him at the line of scrimmage, he gets turned outside too frequently by offensive tackles and he struggles to disengage from such blocks.
Jeffcoat's weight room work will also be key to his success as an NFL run defender. In order to consistently hold up at the line of scrimmage at the next level, he needs to add mass and brute strength.
Projecting Jeffcoat's Fit
Jeffcoat's game needs to develop significantly for him to succeed as either a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker.
While he demonstrates the physicality and gap discipline to be a good edge-setting defensive end against the run, he needs to become stronger to do so consistently.
In order to beat offensive linemen off the line and hold up in one-on-one situations, Jeffcoat must become better at disengaging with his hands. As his game currently stands, there is little reason for opponents to double-team him as NFL left tackles will be able to handle him off the line.
As an outside linebacker, Jeffcoat would need to become a better playmaker in space, both against the run and in pass coverage. He has the fluidity of movement to transition into that role, but has not proven whether he can effectively cover tight ends and inside receivers and consistently make plays in space.
If Jeffcoat can make the necessary improvements to his game, he could be a three-down player. As it stands, he looks like a rotational player best suited to play left end in a 4-3 or "Sam" linebacker in a 3-4.
Jeffcoat's Current Draft Stock, and How It Can Improve
Jeffcoat has the game of a Day 2 draft prospect who could be selected between the second and fourth rounds of the 2014 draft. With significant flaws lingering in his game, his draft stock is dependent upon the improvement he makes as a senior.
Becoming a more technically-sound player is necessary for him to take advantage of his good but limited athleticism. Fortunately, he has a full year left to improve his game—if he can stay healthy.
Jeffcoat has to prove himself against top competition.
When Jeffcoat played Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel as a sophomore in 2011, he was simply dominated, as can be seen in the above cut-up. While Joeckel is an elite offensive tackle who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, being manhandled throughout the game raises questions to Jeffcoat's ability to beat NFL offensive tackles.
Jeffcoat showed improvement in the early portion of his junior season, but unfortunately, his chances to improve and prove himself were limited. Jeffcoat tore his right pectoral muscle versus Oklahoma, which cost him the remainder of his junior season.
Jeffcoat's proneness to injuries is another red flag. He suffered an injury to his other pectoral that required surgery following the 2011 season and missed four games during his freshman year with an ankle injury.
Jeffcoat's lack of explosiveness limits his overall upside, which should at least push him out of the top half of the first round. A late first-round selection is possible if he has a strong senior season, but the second round is more likely his draft stock's ceiling than its floor.
Dan Hope is an NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.
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