Eastlake High School alumnus Tony Jefferson took his game to the next level after signing with the University of Oklahoma. He appeared in three consecutive NCAA Division I bowl games, tasting victory in two of them (the Fiesta Bowl and Insight Bowl).
The former Titan football standout elected to forgo his senior year with the Sooners and placed his name in the pot for this weekend’s NFL Draft. Given his talent level — he was named the Big 12 Conference’s Defensive Freshman of the Year — it’s perhaps not surprising that Jefferson is projected to be a fairly high pick at the safety position.
He is rated as the No. 9 available player in the draft at the position with a score of 73.2 points.
With three players rated ahead of Jefferson selected in Thursday’s opening round, there is a good chance that Eastlake’s shining star could be up for selection in the next two rounds scheduled for Friday.
The 2013 NFL Draft is being held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It concludes Saturday with rounds four through seven.
Texas strong safety Kenny Vaccaro (6-0, 214), who entered the draft as the No. 2-rated player at the safety position with a 87.7 score, was tabbed as the No. 15 pick overall by the New Orleans Saints.
LSU free safety Eric Reid (6-1, 213), rated No. 3 at the safety position with a 82.5 score, was selected by the San Francisco 49ers as the No. 18 pick overall.
Florida free safety Matt Elam (5-10. 208), rated No. 5 among draft-eligible safeties with a score of 80.0, went to the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens as the No. 32 pick overall.
The San Diego Chargers selected Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker (6-5, 339) as the 11th pick overall in Thursday’s first round. The Crimson Tide standout earned a pre-draft score of 85.5 after coming off a BCS national championship.
Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher (6-7, 306) was taken as the No. 1 player overall in Thursday’s opening round by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Jefferson is being projected as a surprise package for the team that choses him. His natural athletic ability isn’t being questioned — in fact, it’s being touted as his strength — but his lack of height at the position is a concern. The ex-Titan star stands 5-10 and weighs 213.
However, Jefferson's size measurements are similar to several top grade NFL safeties currently on the gridiron, among them being Buffalo's Jairus Byrd, Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu, Clevland's T.J. Ward and San Francisco's Donte Whitner. Jefferson is being compared closest to Ward, who fnished the 2012 NFL season with 68 tackles, one sack and one interception.
Jefferson's perceived lack of height certainly didn't stop him from being recruited to play at the Division I collegiate level. His freshman statistics prove that with 65 tackles, seven for loss, seven pass break-ups and two interception (one which was returned for a 22-yard touchdown against Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl) in nine games.
His role at Oklahoma only increased in stature from there. As a sophomore, Jefferson started 12 games and finished with 74 tackles, 7.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks). He also led the Sooners with four interceptions as a Big 12 honorable mention selection.
The numbers for his junior year: 119 tackles, two picks and three pass deflections. His reward: recognition as a second team AP All-American.
Besides lacking the ideal build for a NFL defensive back, Jefferson's other perceived weaknesses are his inferior speed and poor tackling ability. But his athleticism and leadership skills appear to make up for that, according to NFL scouting reports.
Earlier this year, when Jefferson declared himself available for the 2013 NFL Draft, he was touted as a possible fourth- or fifth-round pick by the New England Patriots. Now his name is being linked to the Oakland Raiders.
Understandably, Eastlake football coach John McFadden remains extremely proud of Jefferson. “He’s a great prospect," McFadden said. "He’ll be the first player I’ve coached as a head coach who will play in the pros.”
Jefferson was the catalyst of Eastlake’s 2009 San Diego Section Division I championship team and is generally recognized as the greatest of all Titans on the gridiron.
He was highlighted in the 77th annual AT&T Cotton Bowl Jan. 4 in Arlington, Texas, when the No. 11 Sooners tackled No. 9 Texas A&M and Heisman Award winner Johnny Manziel in front of 87,025 fans at Cowboys Stadium.
The EHS alum, soaking up the national spotlight, was credited with six tackles in Oklahoma’s 41-13 loss to the Aggies.
Manziel posted a monster game with 287 passing yards and two touchdowns and 229 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
McFadden feels Jefferson will be a worthy addition to any NFL team’s roster. “He’s around the ball all the time,” McFadden said in regard to Jefferson. “He can play in space and he can play up on the ball.”
Some surprises appear to be in store for the upcoming rounds. Only one quarterback — Florida State's E.J. Manuel — was taken in the first round (No. 16 by the Buffalo Bills), leaving West Virginia's Geno Smith, the pre-draft No. 1 consensus as the top QB, sitting on the sideline.
To keep up to date on the remainder of this weekend's draft, visit www.nfl.com.