Finally healthy, Anthony Jefferson has become UCLA’s best defensive back

Despite missing the better part of the last few seasons because of injuries, defensive back Anthony Jefferson has emerged as one of UCLA's best defenders this year.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

When Oregon enters the Rose Bowl on Saturday, the defensive back that players are going to be focusing on the most is a redshirt senior who didn’t get significant playing time until last season.

Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, the future first-round NFL draft pick, will be on the lookout for a player who has missed more games with injury than he has started in his UCLA career.

It’s October, and Anthony Jefferson, perhaps the most underrated Bruin defender, has morphed into UCLA’s best defensive back.

“When I first got here, he was kind of in a dark place,” Coach Jim Mora said on Thursday. “The injuries that have happened to him, he’s fought through it, and his attitude has just been tremendous. He’s gotten his speed back, has worked hard and really embraced what we want to be.”


Jefferson missed most of the 2010 and all of the 2011 season with injuries. He was a reserve in 2012, and was healthy enough to be an honorable mention all-conference selection last year. This season, he started out playing mostly safety, but rotates around the field. Part of this is because of his development, and part of it is because the other defensive backs needs help.

Jaleel Wadood is a true freshman.

Ishmael Adams is the fastest person on the field, but is also generously listed as 5 feet 8 and has trouble with taller receivers.

Fabian Moreau, to put it bluntly, has looked lost for most of the season.

The glue is Jefferson, the do-everything man in the secondary.

“His position flexibility is the key thing,” Mora said. “His ability to go play corner and match up against bigger receivers and make plays on the ball, or go back to safety and roam the deep middle or come up and make tackles. He’s been very impressive. He’s done it quietly.”

Jefferson seemed to be underrated even by UCLA before the season started. Mora was praising Moreau as the future first-round NFL draft pick, not Jefferson.

The hype train started late, but almost halfway through the season, the reality is that Jefferson is the best Bruin cornerback on the roster. Without him, an already inconsistent defense would be in a much worse place.


“The fact of the matter is that as we go through the season, there aren’t going to be a lot of people that talk about him,” Mora said. “That ship has kind of sailed, but we recognize what he is. The opponents that we play, I think they recognize what he is as well. It’s a real credit to him and him alone, just the way he’s fought through everything.”

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