Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
(percentile rank among all WRs at the Combine since 1999, courtesy of mockdraftable.com):
40-yard dash: 4.43 seconds (76th)
Vertical: 37.5” (77th)
Broad: 126” (83rd)
20-yard shuttle: n/a
No WR in this draft class had a more productive 2019 campaign than Jefferson. His 111 receptions tied for the most in the entire country. He ranked 3rd in receiving yards and 2nd in TDs.
Yet Jefferson didn’t even lead his own team in yards or TDs. We can forgive him, though, considering he finished behind Ja’Marr Chase, who won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top WR and is the early favorite to be the 1st WR off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Jefferson benefitted from playing in 1 of the most prolific passing games in NCAA history last year. The Joe Burrow-led Tigers easily led the nation in passing yards and TDs, while ranking 2nd in completions. So Jefferson’s market shares aren’t as elite as his raw numbers. He accounted for 26.1% of his team’s receptions, 25.6% of the receiving yards and 29.5% of the receiving TDs. Those marks rank 12th, 17th and 14th among 23 of this year’s top WR prospects.
Jefferson actually posted stronger market shares as a sophomore in 2018 on an LSU squad that ranked just 84th in completions, 63rd in passing yards and 88th in TDs. Jefferson led that team in all major receiving categories, registering 24.1% of the receptions, 29.5% of the receiving yards and 35.3% of the receiving scores.
He arrived to LSU as a 3-star recruit but didn’t hit the stat sheet as a true freshman, failing to crack a WR rotation headlined by NFLers D.J. Chark and Russell Gage.
Courtesy of @WhatsOnDraftNFL
Games watched - Florida (2018), Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma
Jefferson is as good a contested-catch receiver as you’ll find in this WR class. He has excellent body control to adjust to passes, good timing to high-point the football and isn’t afraid to work in traffic.
Pro Football Focus charted Jefferson with a 92.4% contested-catch conversion rate this past season, which led all draft-eligible WRs.
Another mark in Jefferson’s favor is that he has extensive experience playing both outside the numbers and in the slot. He was primarily an outside guy in 2018, playing 81% of his snaps there. But he transitioned in 2019 to play 78% of his routes from the slot.
Jefferson isn’t dominant after the catch, but he has enough speed, wiggle and power to at least be adequate in that department.
The concern with Jefferson’s tape is that we don’t see him separate well from man coverage. He clearly benefitted from playing in LSU’s spread passing attack this past year. And he does seem to have a nice feel for finding soft spots in zone coverages. But he was too often bottled up by quality man coverage. He doesn’t seem to play with the same athleticism before the catch as he does after.
With nice market shares as a sophomore and junior, Jefferson passes the age-adjusted production test — which we know is especially important for WRs. He also showed well at the Combine, earning an 82nd percentile SPARQ score.
That all made his tape a little disappointing. While he’s clearly comfortable and effective in contested situations, he didn’t really shine anywhere else. And his struggles vs. man coverage are a concern as we project him to the next level.
Jefferson doesn’t look like a guy who will elevate a passing game on his own. That makes landing spot important for him. As he showed this past year, he’s capable of posting big numbers in the right spot.