The day he was drafted by the Cardinals, tight end D.C. Jefferson – one-time prep quarterback phenom – was asked if he could play as QB in a wildcat formation.
“I can play any cat,” Jefferson deadpanned.
The outgoing and quote-worthy Jefferson was born to be a quarterback. He had the size (6-foot-6, 255 pounds) and the skills, having shined behind center his whole life. He even had the sobriquet. D.C. isn’t a reference to his own name but a nod to his football resemblance to former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. (His given name is Lequan Darrell Jefferson.)
So when he came out of the Florida prep scene staring at 50-some scholarship offers before finally settling on Rutgers, “I knew, I knew” quarterback stardom was in his future.
A couple of years later, Jefferson sat with Rutgers coach Greg Schiano – now the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach –only two
“It was probably the hardest thing in my life,” said Jefferson, the Cards’ seventh-round pick in April. “But I am always focused on the positive. I knew I wanted to get to the NFL and that goal was not gone. It just wasn’t going to be at the position I wanted or I thought it would be. But I still took advantage of getting to the NFL and I still will have fun. Just not at quarterback.”
In one swoop, Jefferson was “punched in the gut and thrown into the fire.” He knew little of playing tight end. Going from five- and seven-step drops to running routes and crashing into linebackers as a blocker wasn’t exactly a natural transition.
Jefferson attacked the move with enthusiasm. The NFL would find him if he was good enough. Of this he was sure.
He was starting at tight end soon after his move. He developed as a solid blocker although his receiving numbers – 47 receptions in 43 career starts – didn’t exactly move the needle. The Cardinals are hoping that can change, although with pass-catching
“(D.C.) is still growing and he’s still got to mature more into the position,” tight ends coach Rick Christophel said. “He does have some innate athletic abilities. Hopefully we can capitalize on those and get him to be the player we think he can be.”
Just as Jefferson was sure once upon a time he’d find a way to succeed even though he was changing positions, he carries with him a confidence he will make that jump. The man who can be anyone’s friend any given day – his words – isn’t lacking for joy whether it is in football or life. That tends to have a positive influence in his job.
“I am a raw tight end finding out the knicks and knacks to be great,” Jefferson said. “It’s there. I have it. But I am not all the way there.
“Every single year, I never stayed the same. How can I stay the same when I’ve got (Larry) Fitzgerald right there, and half my game is catching the ball? I will take that. Everywhere I go I humble myself and learn from the guys around me.”
Jefferson smiles when he is told a fan suggested during the draft the Cardinals took him not to be a tight end but as a covert choice as quarterback of the future. “I’m the future tight end,” Jefferson said. “Pretty sure. Pretty sure.”
Then Jefferson gives a dramatic pause.
“But,” he emphasizes, “third down, goal line, QB sneak. Boom! I got all this, baby. Like the back of my hand. Just put me in there. Who scares me? Nobody. We all bleed the same.”
The grin doesn’t fade. Somewhere in there, the quarterback still lives, even if he is playing tight end on Sundays.