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This series of Five Questions With... will focus not only on the 2015 draft class for the Chicago Bears, but some of the undrafted free agents as well. This series of articles has become one of my favorites to do here at Windy City Gridiron, as I feel it gives us an added insight to the new players on the Bears.
Next up we'll focus on another of Chicago's undrafted free agents and talk with Greg Burcham, who is the Managing Editor of Bruins Nation, the SB Nation site that covers the UCLA Bruins, about defensive back Anthony Jefferson.
Windy City Gridiron - Jefferson was moved between corner and safety at UCLA, which position do you feel he played best at, and where do you think he fits best in the NFL?
Bruins Nation - AJ was a really good corner for the Bruins the last two years. Though his athleticism, size, and solid tackling skills would definitely translate well to either safety position, I think he can be a good corner in the NFL. At 6-1 and 190, he can match up physically with the big receivers that a faster but smaller DB can't handle. The Bruin corners weren't asked to press at the line of scrimmage often, but his size would suit him well in that role, too. Although Jefferson doesn't have great top end speed (he ran a 4.6 at his pro day), he has long arms and good cover skills and has great hands for a DB that make up for it. He's probably not a guy you just put on an island and forget right now, but he'd certainly be effective in coverage and would definitely be strong in nickel or dime packages against a slot receiver or a tight end.
WCG - He had a couple of serious injuries that stole most of 2010 and 2011 from him, any lingering affects from those?
BN - Jefferson missed most of his freshman year in 2010 with a broken foot and then all of the following year with a nagging back injury. He was a bit slow getting back in 2012 but after the tough start to his college career, that was probably as much mental as physical. He improved steadily during 2012, and then started every game in 2013 and 2014. He was really consistent and durable as a starter, both in defending the pass and the run. Those early injuries didn't show up the last 2+ years and I think they are well behind him.
WCG - Reserve defensive backs in the NFL need to be able to play special teams, how much experience did Jefferson have in that phase of the game?
BN - Jefferson was playing on special teams during his freshman year in 2010 when he was injured and then played on special teams extensively in 2012 throughout the season. As a starting CB the last two years, he wasn't asked to play on special teams, but he is certainly athletic enough and a good tackler that he'd be a good contributor on ST.
WCG - I see Jefferson knocked for his speed by many scouts, but he was very productive the last two seasons making 161 tackles and having 13 passes defended. Is this just a case of a guy that plays faster than his timed speed?
BN - I think you hit that one on the head. AJ is definitely better on the field than his what his combine numbers might predict. He's smart and uses his size well and plays routes well, so his 40 time doesn't apply as directly to his game. It's interesting in retrospect that Jefferson didn't really make a ton of headlines at U.C.L.A. despite being the third leading tackler on D each of the last two years and having the most pass breakups this past season. He was just really solid in all phases of his game and opponents seemed to try to target other parts of the field. Jefferson just quietly became a 2nd team All Pac-12 corner going up against a lot NFL level receivers in the conference each week.
WCG - Do you think he has a shot at making an NFL roster?
BN - Definitely. It was some bit of a surprise that Jefferson wasn't drafted in the first place, but that may have worked out better for him by allowing him to pick a good place to try for a roster spot. Jefferson overcame a lot of adversity early in his college career to emerge as a defensive star and team leader, so his attitude and work ethic will be big assets. The Bears obviously have a legacy of great defenses, and there looks to be some room on the roster in the secondary right now, so Chicago appears to be a great opportunity for him. In a division with QBs like Aaron Rogers and Matt Stafford, DBs are at a premium. AJs ability to match up physically with big receivers along with his versatility to play either corner or safety and contribute on special teams should make him a solid addition to the Bears roster.
Thanks again to Greg Burcham for getting us the inside scoop!