Arizona Cardinals: The Path of Undrafted Free Agent Tony Jefferson


Dec 01, 2012; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners defensive back Tony Jefferson (1) reacts after stopping the TCU Horned Frogs on a fourth down play during the second half at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

For what seems like an eternity, Tony Jefferson has dreamed of becoming an NFL superstar. Playing high school football for Eastlake High in Chula Vista, California, he became a top recruit. He ranked as the seventh-best recruit in California, a state notoriously known for pumping out talented football prospects. At the safety position, he was ranked fourth nationally and decided to sign his letter of intent to play football for the University of Oklahoma, where he would become a glorified Sooner. Jefferson’s path to the NFL was set, all he needed to do was make the transition to college football and after three to four years of stellar play he would become a first round draft pick.

Jefferson was to be “the second coming of Roy Williams” according to Jason Kersey of As a freshman, Jefferson lived up to the hype; he registered two interceptions and 65 total tackles. His play through nine games earned him the Big 12 defensive freshman of the year award and a spot on the freshman All-American 1st team. For an encore, during his sophomore year, against Ball St University he intercepted the ball on three consecutive possessions, a feat that few have produced in the history of football. For his junior year he racked up 119 tackles while battling a nasty injury.

After his junior year he made the decision to chase his dream and declare for the NFL Draft. Leaving school early is a difficult choice for any prospect, but Jefferson decided to declare. The 2013 NFL Draft was filled with talent at the safety position. To a player of Jefferson’s caliber, competition isn’t worth the bother. He flied through the short cone shuttle drill, posting a 4.75 time, placing second among safeties. Everything seemed to spiral downhill when destiny took a turn for the worst, as, Jefferson pulled his hamstring while running a drill and could not participate in the remaining exercises. Hurt and out of the physical competition, still had him graded as a second or third round pick.

The injury probably didn’t bother Jefferson. He played through all of 2012 with a high ankle sprain, continually re-aggravating the injury. Just like then he would now have to try and fight through the injury and impress teams with his interview and game tape. Jefferson’s agent would continue to market him as an early round draft pick to teams, while NFL scouts would justify him with high grades. There was only one more obstacle between Jefferson and his dream of playing in the NFL; the draft.

As the NFL draft commenced on April 25th, Tony Jefferson, as all other prospects do, did not leave his cell phones side. The wait through the first day was expected, his nerves were most likely not shaken. Day 2 would surely be his day, a team like the Cardinals, who were in need of a safety would draft him. But as the day progressed, Jefferson was left by his phones side with no missed calls. No team drafted him. Begrudgingly, he would have to bare through the last day of the draft and as patiently as possible wait for a team who did not pick him in the first three rounds to call his name. Nobody called.

Going undrafted was unexpected. He quickly signed with the Arizona Cardinals who have an easy path to a starting job. His twitter account read “I’m going to do it for the non-believers in Arizona… signed with the Cardinals. Y’all don’t even understand the fire inside me man. It’s a rap. I don’t need to be drafted. God drafted me January 27th, who else do I need to be drafted by.”

Whether it is rumors of coaches bad-mouthing him out of spite for not playing his senior year, or, anonymous media reports that he had a bad work ethic, was not a team player and lacked leadership skills, Tony Jefferson has nothing to prove to those people. His faith in God will lead him to happiness whether he has a hall of fame career or is a undrafted free agent bust. All he has is a burning desire to prove them wrong.

Ask Kurt Warner, Antonio Gates, Warren Moon or Arian Foster what it felt like to go undrafted and I am sure they will say it felt like the beginning, the beginning of proving everyone who has ever doubted them wrong. Tony Jefferson has the “fire inside” of him. Hopefully for the Cardinals, that fire inside provides the Arizona Cardinals with a starting safety for years to come. If he brings the same intensity and passion that he has played with throughout his football career, it would be a fool’s bet to wager against him.