Any time a team wins a National Championship, they’re going to have a roster that is stacked with NFL talent. But one of the most impressive aspects of LSU’s run to, and through, the College Football Playoffs was how so many of their players emerged at the same time. By the last third to quarter of the 2019 season, most of LSU’s team were playing their best football and had transformed from a “good” team to a yellow and purple buzzsaw tearing a swath through the college football landscape.
Reciever Justin Jefferson emerged in 2018 as LSU’s most dependable receiver, but he took his game to another level over the course of the 2019 season. Jefferson will likely be one of the first five receivers drafted following a stellar playoff run and a surprising performance at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine.
The New York Giants have a need at receiver, so should they consider him if the value is right?
Prospect: Justin Jefferson (WR, LSU)
Games Watched: vs. Florida (2019), vs. Auburn (2019), vs. Georgia (2019), vs. Oklahoma (2019)
Games Played (starts): 30
Yards (YPC): 2,415 (14.6 per catch)
Games Played: 15
Yards (YPC): 1,540 (13.9 per catch)
Best: Route running, hands, athleticism, body control
Worst: Frame, blocking
Projection: A starting receiver in a West Coast or spread offense.
LSU’s Justin Jefferson has a good blend of length, speed, agility, and technical polish for a receiving prospect. Jefferson primarily played a “big slot” role in LSU’s offense, but also lined up as a wide receiver, as well as in the backfield. He shows a good release off the line of scrimmage, and though he didn’t see much press coverage, he didn’t allow it to affect his route when he did see it. Jefferson is a very smart route runner, using a variety of subtle moves and tempo shifts throughout his route step to create indecision in the opposing defensive back. He did a good job of pressing his route stems vertically, allowing himself to create separation out of his breaks or draw defensive pass interference calls. Jefferson has deceptive speed on vertical routes, with the ability to out-run cornerbacks and stress the defense down the field.
Jefferson has very good ball skills, tracking and adjusting to the ball well down the field and showing strong hands to catch the ball in traffic. He also has good discipline to wait until the last second to extend and pluck the ball out of the air, giving the defender as little opportunity to react as possible. Jefferson also shows very good body control to contort and maximize his catch radius.
He also shows upside as a ball carrier in run-after-catch situations. Jefferson shows good awareness of both the field and the defense to maximize his opportunities to pick up extra yards, as well as a willingness to drive his legs and fight for yards after contact.
Jefferson’s primary limitation is a slight frame without much room for added mass. He is a willing, competitive blocker, but limited play strength makes it difficult for him to establish and sustain blocks. He could also find himself being bullied in press-man coverage situations by bigger defensive backs at the NFL level.
Overall Grade: 6.6 - Has the traits to be a starting receiver his rookie year. Should immediately be an important contributor for any team that drafts him. A first round value. [Grading Scale]
Justin Jefferson is a scheme-versatile receiving prospect who thrived as a “big slot” in a spread offense, but has the traits to play a variety of alignments in a variety of offensive schemes.
He will likely be best in an offense based on West Coast or spread principles. Jefferson has a varied route tree and is a savvy route runner, allowing an offense to use his routes as weapons. An offense that uses route combinations to create defensive conflicts would give Jefferson a chance to use his route running to its fullest advantage, as well as create opportunities to be a playmaker with the ball in his hands. That being said, he should also be used in vertical concepts as well, as his use of subtle head, shoulder, and hip fakes, as well as tempo changes, make it difficult for defensive backs to stay in phase. Likewise, his deceptive long speed has a tendency to take cornerbacks by surprise, eating up cushions or negating recovery speed.
Teams might want to try and manufacture free releases for Jefferson early in his career, at least until he shows the ability to consistently deal with NFL size and speed in press situations.
All told, Jefferson has a well-rounded game that should appeal to a wide variety of teams.