For the next two weeks, we're taking a look at one player each Big 12 team can't live without. Here are the players we consider the most indispensable heading into 2016. We continue this series today with the Texas Longhorns.
Most indispensable: LB Malik Jefferson
Jefferson hasn’t even began his second season on the 40 acres. Yet it is hard to consider any other player on the roster as more central to the Charlie Strong era than Jefferson.
Not only is Jefferson an impact player and future star on the gridiron, he is the face of the program in many ways, particularly in the minds of recruits in the state of Texas. The sophomore is a critical asset on the field and an even bigger positive in the bigger picture as relentless recruiter for the Longhorns, particularly on social media.
Just come to the #40
— Malik Jefferson 4⃣6⃣ (@Official_MalikJ) June 24, 2016
On the field, Jefferson has the makings of a star. He earned various freshman All-American honors after recording 61 tackles including seven tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, six quarterback pressures, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Jefferson is a sideline-to-sideline playmaker who arrives at the ball with aggression.
As a sophomore, Jefferson should be even better. He has nine starts under his belt and a better understanding of what it takes to excel in the Big 12. Strong and the Longhorns’ defensive coaching staff have a better feel for how to maximize his playmaking while masking his weaknesses. He could be set up for a all-conference season as a centerpiece player in the Longhorns defense.
Taking Jefferson out of the mix would leave a significant hole in Texas’ defense. The Longhorns linebacker room has plenty of young talent alongside Jefferson -- headlined by Anthony Wheeler and Edwin Freeman -- but no other linebacker can fill Jefferson’s shoes.
Strong looks like he has the pieces to build the Big 12’s best defense in 2016 but no defender is more indispensable than Jefferson, who should be the foundation of the unit for years to come.