2011 has definitely been a big year for A.J. Jefferson. With the trade of Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, and the injury to Greg Toler, Jefferson had a chance to compete for significant playing time, after only seeing limited action in two games in 2010. Jefferson has taken advantage of the opportunity.
Not only is he starting at cornerback opposite fifth-overall pick, Patrick Petersen, Jefferson is becoming one of the breakout players on the Cardinals this season. Jefferson leads the team in solo tackles, a stat linebackers usually dominate in; he also leads the team in pass deflections.
Despite this strong play after only five career starts, Jefferson still feels like he has room to improve. "I see things in myself that I need to work on," said Jefferson. "It's been progression for me, I see myself getting better."
Jefferson was one of the few bright spots last week for the Cardinals, against the Minnesota Vikings. Even though the Cardinals lost the game 34-10, Jefferson led the team in both total tackles and solo tackles. Jefferson had three tackles in run defense and was impressive tackling in space against one of the best running backs in the league, Adrian Petersen.
Perhaps an even bigger contribution that Jefferson has made on the team has been on special teams. With LaRod Stephens-Howling sidelines for several games with a hand injury, the Cardinals have asked Jefferson to fill in on special teams... and he has stepped up.
Jefferson leads the team in both kick return yards (203) and kick return yards per return (29.0), and he is fifth in the NFL in average yards per kick return.
Although the Cardinals are 21st in the league in passing defense, Jefferson sees improvement in the secondary.
"Everyone is getting a lot more comfortable with communicating, checks are getting faster, and we are getting a little bit more comfortable with the defense," said Jefferson.
The secondary will look to make up for the loss of safety Kerry Rhodes, who was lost for at least a month with a broken foot.
Although he sometimes gets overshadowed by rookie Patrick Petersen, Jefferson has been the Cardinals strongest cornerback this season.
Jefferson, however, remains humble and knows he has a lot to work on. "I'm far from perfect, I'm far from where I want to be, but I feel good about where I'm going."
A.J. Jefferson Gets Recognition For Play Against Minnesota Vikings - Revenge of the Birds
With a single game grade of +3.7, Jefferson had the highest game rating at his position. PFF wrote this: Jefferson has turned out to be quite the revelation for the Cardinals, breaking up two of the six passes thrown his way, and coming up to help in run defense with five defensive stops on the day. In fact, In Pro Football Focus' weekly All-PFF team, he made the cut for his play.