Cowboys 2013 Draft Targets: Rutgers TE D.C. Jefferson

Jim McIsaac

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, its important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we'll look at Rutgers tight end D.C. Jefferson

D.C. Jefferson signed with Rutgers as a Florida prep who was one of the nation's top 20 quarterback prospects. He redshirted the 2008 season at quarterback, and then made the position switch midway through the team’s preseason practices the following fall. Despite his lack of experience at tight end, he started 10 games as a redshirt freshman, making five receptions for 108 yards. In 2010, Jefferson doubled his reception total, netting 166 yards a touchdown. He played in every game again in 2011, catching 12 passes for 118 yards. In his senior campaign, Jefferson caught 20 passes for 168 yards and one touchdown.

His low totals were in part of byproduct of limited opportunities due to a plethora of offensive talent (the Scarlet Knights had future NFLers Kenny Britt, Mohamed Sanu and Tiquan Underwood at wideout during Jefferson's tenure with the team) moreso than a lack of talent. In actuality, Jefferson offers a rare combination of size and athleticism. Although he had to bow out of the Combine after suffering a pectoral injury during the bench pres, he was able to show off some of that athletic ability at Rutgers' pro day; although he struggled in the 40-yard dash (4.97 seconds), he registered good explosiveness numbers (32 1/2-inch vertical and a 9-foot-11 broad jumps) and drill times (4.62 short shuttle and 7.47 in the three-cone).

To be clear: Jefferson is no Jimmy Graham; he'll be drafted by a team looking for a blocking tight end. At the same time, he's not one-dimensional; Jefferson is a big, athletic target capable of doing some damage in the passing game. Moreover, his best football is probably still ahead of him.

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Does our panel of scouting sages agree? Continue reading, dear friend, and impart their collective wisdom...

ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 16th-rated TE; not in top 150

Separation Skills: Average-to-below average in this area. Adequate agility avoiding contact to gain a clean release off the line of scrimmage. Fluid getting in-and-out of stem. However, lacks juice as a route runner and doesn't have exceptional burst out of breaks to consistently run away from defenders and create separation. He is a strong and physical route runner though and rarely gets knocked off routes by contact. Has a natural feel for soft spot in the short-to-intermediate part of the field working against zone coverage.

Ball Skills: Size and length provide him a wide catching radius. Has big mitts and consistently catches the ball away from frame. Will occasionally have a drop mainly due to a mental lapse. Shows above-average body control and adjust well to throws outside of the strike zone. Uses frame well to shield defenders with contested throws. Doesn't have the athleticism or leaping ability to be a weapon in jump ball situations.

Big Play Ability: Lack of top-end speed puts a cap on his vertical capabilities. Can be a factor in the intermediate part of the field. A strong runner after the catch. However, doesn't have great lateral agility or elusiveness and won't make many defenders miss in the open field.

Competitiveness: Tough and willing to do the dirty work. No hesitation working the middle of the field. Shows good focus and fight in traffic as a pass catcher. Works hard to sustain blocks. Flashes a nasty side and will finish when given the opportunity.

Blocking: Possesses an ideal frame and excellent core strength. Can clean up initial angles. However, when able to get into position has the frame and inline powerbase to cover up drive defenders off the line of scrimmage. Shows ability to torque body and steer defenders. Has long arms and strong anchor to hold ground in pass protection. Only issue is that he can lunge and be susceptible to push pull moves on occasion.

Intangibles: Recruited as a quarterback before switching to tight end midway through preseason camp his redshirt freshman season (2009). Team player. Strong weight room and work ethic.

CBSSports.com (Rob Rang): 27th-rated TE; 504 overall

Strengths: Flashed his talented skill-set during practices at the Shrine Game, showing off his large, athletic frame and proving to be an imposing target downfield and a physical blocker.

Weaknesses: Unpolished in several areas, and didn't show the expected progression throughout his college career. Lackluster college production. Shows limited strength at the point of attack and rarely gets involved in the passing game.

Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 23rd-rated TE; not in top 150

Positives: Looks the part with a big, projectable frame, including very long arms and large hands. Releases cleanly. Nice ease of movement. Big target. Good hands to pluck off his frame. Willing, competitive blocker with in-line strength and surprising leverage.

Negatives: Lacks elite top-end speed and suddenness. Needs work as a route runner. Straight-linish after the catch. Still developing positional instincts and techniques. Very average career production (only two career TDs). Coachability and motivation needs to be looked into.

Summary: Big, functionally strong "Y" tight end and converted quarterback who endured repeated coaching turnover, but has developmental value given his dimensions, blocking ability and hands.

National Football Post (Russ Lande): 15th-rated TE; 192 overall

Strengths: Jefferson has the ideal body for the TE position with excellent height and a thick build. He is a fluid athlete capable of making smooth cuts and getting in and out of his breaks quickly. He is capable of using his body to shield defenders from the ball and elevate to pluck balls out of the air from their highest point. He is an aggressive blocker capable of locking out, playing with solid base and leverage and using his foot quickness to seal his man out of the play.

Weaknesses: While a smooth runner, Jefferson is a one-speed athlete that is not able to accelerate of the LOS and out of his breaks. He does not use his hands well to protect his frame and struggles to create separation. He also doesn't consistently finish his routes out of his breaks, throwing off the his timing with the QB and making it easy for defenders to stay on his hip.

Summary: Jefferson looks the part of an NFL TE and is a competent, competitive blocker that uses his length, strength and foot quickness to establish positioning at the POA and turn his man out of the play. While his blocking skills will translate quickly to the NFL, he is still a raw route runner that does not use his hands aggressively on his breaks and struggles to create separation. He is not a quick twitch athlete and has to rely on his bulk and ball skills to win balls in the air, as he is not a threat to consistently stretch the seams. Jefferson is a former QB and thus is still learning the position, and considering his competitiveness as a blocker he has some clear, developmental upside. While he doesn't appear to have the natural COD ability and speed to develop into a starter, he should be a solid backup and special teams player.

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Jefferson appears to be the lowest-ranked player among the 30 national invitees to Valley Ranch earlier this month. In fact, the highest draft slot afforded him is Lande's 192nd, which would mean he'd be drafted late Saturday afternoon, somewhere in the late sixth round. The others think he's a UDFA candidate, at best. After hearing he was an invitee, I did some sleuthing and found enough positive assessments of his game that I'm confident he'll be drafted (heck, Ed Cahill gave him to Dallas in the fourth round in the mothership's most recent mock draft). I'm not quite that confident, but I'll place Jefferson in the sixth round in my 2013 "little board."

What about him interested the Cowboys enough to warrant a trip to the Ranch? The same thing that earned Dion Sims an invite: he's a superb blocker. ESPN's Horton rates players from 1 (best) to 4 (worst) in a variety of categories; Jefferson was the only tight end in this year's class who received a "1" for his blocking. As I noted in my assessment of Sims, the Cowboys have missed Martellus Bennett's blocking and are looking for a collegian who can provide a Bennett-like push as an in-line "Y" tight end. Anything before a third-day pick for such a specimen is too rich for my blood. If they were to get that kind of blocker in, say, the sixth round, however, Ol' Rabble would nod vigorously and thump the table in approval...

Next up: Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins

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