Road to the Pros: LSU Receiver Justin Jefferson Continues to Shoot Up NFL Draft Boards

Jefferson projected as a first round pick after stellar combine performance
Author:
Updated:
Original:

It's a story that's become synonymous with his name ever since Justin Jefferson arrived at LSU's campus as a wide-eyed, two-star recruit in 2017.

Jefferson was the final scholarship addition to the 2017 recruiting class and didn't even arrive on campus until that August as a 6-foot-2, 175-pound unassuming receiver that everybody though was a walk-on upon arrival.

"I came the second day of fall camp and they didn't have any more lockers so I had to go get locker 118," Jefferson said on the "Hey Fightin" podcast back in September. "People knew me because I was Jordan and Rickey's brother but at the same time they were like "you're a walk-on."

Justin followed in the footsteps of brothers Jordan and Rickey as the third member of the Jefferson clan to suit up for the purple and gold, but would leave behind a three-year legacy that very few have achieved with the LSU program. His story is a reminder that it doesn't matter how you get there, it's about making the most of the opportunity that's presented to you.

After appearing in seven games as a freshman in 2017 and failing to record a catch, Jefferson exploded on the scene in 2018, becoming quarterback Joe Burrow's No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 option as a sophomore. Jefferson brought in 54 receptions for 875 yards and six touchdowns that season, more than double the amount of receptions as the next receivers on the list, Stephen Sullivan and Ja'Marr Chase (23).

But Jefferson was only getting started. During the Tigers’ national championship run in 2019, Jefferson set the school record for receptions in a season (111) for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns. The only reason Jefferson doesn't hold the record for all three is the 1,740 yard, 20 touchdown year from Chase that earned him the Biletnikoff Award.

Coming into the 2019 season, you knew that Jefferson was going to be considered as the lead dog and his move to the slot made him a lethal weapon, starting with that 3rd-and-17 knockout punch against Texas. 

It was that game where it became apparent that not only the offense as a whole, but individually, everyone's game seemed to take multiple jumps in the right direction. And Jefferson was no exception. 

His speed increased, his route running, which was already pristine, became crisper, all while continuing to make those sure handed receptions that just needed to be placed anywhere close to his catching radius.

Just take a look at this catch against Utah State as Jefferson uses his entire 6-foot-2 frame to box out what was pretty great coverage from the cornerback, to go up and snag a difficult throw with his phenomenal catch radius. 

The one question scouts had about Jefferson entering the 2020 draft combine was if he had the requisite speed to be able to consistently create separation at the NFL level. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah was stopped mid-sentence when Jefferson blew most everybody at the combine away with a 4.43 40-yard dash time.

 

“Definitely,” Jefferson told NFL Network analyst Ian Rapoport on his podcast. “Everybody from each team thought I was going to run like a 4.5, 4.6., so just going out there and running that 4.4 and just showing the ability, that I have speed, is just [an] extra accessory to my game.”

Because of his stellar collegiate record, infectious locker room personality and phenomenal combine results, Jefferson not only implanted himself as a first round pick but likely won't get past pick No. 20 come April 23.

Most Intriguing Destination: Philadelphia Eagles (No. 21 overall)

While it may be a stretch at this point to think Jefferson will get this far down the draft, the Eagles are a perfect fit for the former Tiger. Jefferson can step in and immediately give quarterback Carson Wentz a dependable, consistent threat from the slot.

There have been reports that Alshon Jeffery wouldn't mind a change of scenery and with Zach Ertz, Desean Jackson and Nelson Agholor on the roster, the addition of Jefferson would give the Eagles a formidable passing attack in 2020. 

The Miami Dolphins (No. 18) and Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 20) are two teams that will be looking for young weapons and in Jacksonville's case, would see Jefferson team up with former Tigers DJ Chark and Leonard Fournette.

Writer’s Note: With the NFL Draft just under six weeks from now, concerns surrounding COVID-19 will likely force the league to make some tough decisions in the coming weeks. For Jefferson and the other LSU draft prospects, the early rounds in Las Vegas were primed to be dominated by Tigers. Stay tuned for updates as the situation develops.