Tony Jefferson was hurt when he went undrafted a year ago, but now wants to push for a starting job.
Sometimes, the draft doesn’t provide great memories, even for the players who end up in the NFL.
Tony Jefferson will be part of the pool the Cardinals will consider to play at safety this season, with Yeremiah Bell out (at least for now) and Tyrann Mathieu coming off a major knee injury. He’s earned that after playing his way on to the roster last season as an undrafted free agent.
That path is difficult anyway. For Jefferson, who left Oklahoma as a junior thinking he could be a top pick, it hurt him mentally for a while.
“Yeah, (not being drafted) affected me,” Jefferson said. “Every day, when I went to sleep, when I woke up, I thought about it. I was still confused.”
“But that is gone now. It’s a clearer view for me now and a better opportunity.”
No, there won’t be any look backs for Jefferson during draft weekend. This is about looking forward. Jefferson had a few games as a rookie in which he was utilized regularly on defense, enough to get a taste of the NFL. In Todd Bowles’ defense, Jefferson said he thinks the safety spot is relatively interchangeable, and he can see himself playing both free and strong safety – much like teammate Rashad Johnson has done.
It’s natural that Jefferson finds himself more comfortable as the Cardinals go through their initial installation of the defense during the Cards’ first meetings of the offseason. The NFL maturation process almost always creates its biggest leaps between a player’s rookie and second years. With Jefferson putting his draft disappointment behind him, it should push his improvement that much further.
Maybe saying the draft is in the rear view isn’t completely true. This year’s draft figures to again impact Jefferson, since it would not be a surprise to think the Cardinals draft a safety again this year after picking up Mathieu in the third round last season.
“Safety is a need,” Jefferson acknowledges, looking around at the defensive backs’ lockers near him.
With Mathieu still sidelined with his rehab, Johnson is the only safety on the roster with significant experience. Besides Jefferson, the Cards have Curtis Taylor and Orhian Johnson.
“There are not as many guys returning that actually played so I feel we do need to address it,” Jefferson said. “I know I haven’t really been in the discussion but I’m not worried about it. I stepped in when I had the opportunity and did what I could and I think I did pretty well. I think if I get another opportunity to compete for a starting job I think I could excel.”