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Breaking Down Justin Jefferson

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“We’re gonna go get a Super Bowl” - Justin Jefferson

NCAA Football: Utah State at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings drafted wide receiver Justin Jefferson with the 22nd pick in the 2020 NFL Draft - one of the draft picks they got from the Buffalo Bills in the trade for Stefon Diggs.

College Career

LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY (LSU) | DIV-I FBS | SEC

Justin Jefferson is the third in his family to play football for the LSU Tigers - his older brother Jordan was a QB from 2008-11, and his other brother Ricky was a safety from 2013-16.

Justin began in 2017 as a freshman, but only played in four games and didn’t have a reception. Nevertheless, the coaching staff must have liked what they saw in him and he rewarded them by being their top receiver in 2018 as a sophomore, with 54 receptions for 875 yards and 13 TDs in 13 games (12 starts). He followed that up in his junior year 2019 with FBS-leading 111 receptions, for 1,540 yards and 18 TDs in 15 starts en route to LSU winning the FBS Championship.

At LSU, Jefferson played both outside and slot positions. In 2019, he played primarily slot, while in 2018 he played primarily out wide.

Measurables

The following are Justin Jefferson’s Combine measurables, along with (% rank) among wide receivers, with 99% being top, 1% bottom. Any pro day results are marked with an asterisk *.

Height: 6’1 1/4” (47%) | Weight: 202 lbs. (51%) | Arm length: 33” (78%) | Hands: 9 1/8” (31%)

40 time: 4.43s (87%) | 10-yard split: 1.54s (87%) | 20-yard split: 2.61s (73%)

Vertical Jump: 37.5” (82%) | Broad Jump: 126” (84%) | BP reps: n/a

3-Cone Drill: n/a | 20-yd Short Shuttle: n/a | Age: 21.2

Overall, Jefferson was about average in terms of size, and top 20% on average in terms of speed, acceleration and burst measures. He didn’t do the key agility or strength drills, so those measures are incomplete.

Scouting Reports

If there is a general consensus among scouting reports on Jefferson, it is that he is generally a good route runner, with good hands, contested catch ability, decent speed and quickness, but perhaps lacking in some physicality getting off of press coverage and getting ‘bodied’ by bigger corners at times in his routes. And while there is no denying his production last year at LSU, there is some skepticism about what degree his production was a result of the high-powered LSU offense and scheme, rather than Jefferson’s own creation, and therefore whether he’ll be able to achieve similar production in the NFL. Lastly, the general view is that he is better as a slot receiver, where combating press coverage isn’t as much of an issue, than an outside receiver, at least initially.

Lance Zierlein at nfl.com provides a good summary of Jefferson’s pros and cons, while Kyle Crabbs at The Draft Network provides perhaps the best detailed scouting report:

A quarterback’s best friend, with the contested-catch focus and extreme ball skills to boost completion percentages. Jefferson failed to stand out as an outside target but saw his stock soar with a monster season from the slot. He has decent speed and separation talent, but he needs to improve as a route-runner, as he’s less likely to see the same freedom in space that LSU’s offense helped create for him. He’s slippery in space and able to stab and save throws with quick hands and fluid body adjustments. Teams looking for an inside/outside possession receiver with the size and savvy to make chain-moving catches could push Jefferson up the board. - Lance Zierlein, nfl.com

Route Tree - Love his variance working off the line of scrimmage. He’ll slow play his routes to allow created space in the underneath areas but provides good burst to accelerate into separation once he puts the pedal down. Smooth at the top of route breaks. Was a killer on over routes and option routes from the slot.

Hands - He’s pretty sticky here. Has plucked plenty of balls in congested spaces and drops are a rarity, even when defenders flash in his face. He’s really aggressive to attack the football and as a result he’ll win first right to the ball, where he’s effective tucking and securing the reception.

Contested Catch Skills - High point skills aren’t overwhelming but he’s got silky smooth body control to open himself to receptions when the throw is leveraged away from defenders. Boxed out on little stick or out routes in the red zone and won inside positioning on slants for RPO reps to get his body between defenders and his hands consistently.

RAC Ability - His long speed isn’t great, but he can scoot after the catch and his foot quickness and fluidity as an athlete empower him to snap off his trajectory and break contain effectively. Field vision is good and finds opportunities to work off the boundary. He runs tough, too — will twist or pull out of tackles.

Football IQ - His understanding of how to set up defensive backs and his deliberate approach to creating favorable spacing are high level skills that will empower him to find success early in his NFL career. He’s savvy on the route stem and at the top of his routes to flash his eyes elsewhere and lies to defenders.

Vertical Receiving - Isn’t a true burner but he’s pretty savvy in creating false steps and is capable of selling vertical threat. His physicality shows up and can help him convert defenders into the trail position. His ball tracking skills are top notch and allow him to take optimal pathways to the football once it is in the air.

COD Skills - Silky smooth. He’s quick to peel back against his momentum and foot speed is a huge asset when he’s at the top of his routes to gear down, sink the hips and come back to the LOS or carry pace on his 90 degree angles. Shiftiness at the LOS allows him to dip under press challenges and gear up into a stem down the field.

Speed - Have seen him get tracked down on longer foot races but he’ll have little issue initially after the catch to break angles and should still be considered a viable big play in waiting. Possesses a better initial burst than he does flying 20, which helps him pop off some chunk gains.

Competitive Toughness - Every so often you’ll see him fall into a spectator role while the play is still in action. But his tenacity attacking the ball, with the ball in his hands, as a blocker and when challenging tacklers shouldn’t be slept on, he’s going to bring a toughness to a wide receiver room and help an offense play with attitude.

Blocking Skills - The scrap is strong with this one. Effort to move his feet and sustain his hand grip is excellent — he’s going to turn nickel defenders out routinely and is capable of stepping down to seal on linebackers looking to flow or scrape into space. He’s got potent punch and eagerly gobbles real estate in the slot.

Justin Jefferson projects as an impact starter at the NFL level. Jefferson brings size, quickness, route running polish, reliable hands to the slot — but don’t mistake him for *just* a slot receiver. Jefferson has the physicality and footwork to win on the boundary against press coverage as well, he’ll be a sufficient weapon for any starting quarterback. Jefferson may not necessarily be best as the focal point of his offensive attack, but he’ll be a deadly #2 threat in an WR room. - Kyle Crabbs, TDN

Comparing Jefferson’s scouting reports to his predessor’s, Stefon Diggs, is perhaps insightful as well:

STRENGTHS Fluid, flexible athlete. Five-star recruit who stayed home to help build local program. Instinctive route runner. Does an outstanding job of sinking his hips and exploding out of breaks to create immediate separation. Natural ball-plucker. Excellent body control to adjust to throws, whether they’re low, high or behind him. Can make contested catches. Dynamic and dangerous with the ball in his hands. Sudden once he’s in space, using head fakes and impressive lateral change of direction to make multiple defenders miss. Instant acceleration is his differentiator from the slot. Played through a lacerated kidney he sustained against Penn State and finished the game. Can be immediate kick returner in the league.

WEAKNESSES Most of his production came from slot or as outside receiver in space. Must prove he can win as route runner against quality cornerbacks. Play strength is below par. Gets muscled around by physical defenders. Very aware of oncoming traffic and will stop routes to avoid big hits. Gives moderate effort as a blocker, but rarely ends up getting his man blocked. Had season-ending injuries two years in a row (broken leg and lacerated kidney). Suspended one game for his actions in pregame dustup vs. Penn State.

BOTTOM LINE Doesn’t possess the strength or long speed to make a living as an outside receiver, but he can be an extremely effective weapon from the slot as a pro, turning short third-down throws into first downs. Diggs can make things happen when he has the ball in his hands and could become a consistent, productive weapon for the right offensive coordinator. - Lance Zierlein, nfl.com

Overall, the scouting reports are very similar, with the exception that Jefferson is better as a run blocker, doesn’t have the injury history, and Jefferson isn’t timid about contact and going over the middle.

And from a measurables perspective, Jefferson is a slightly bigger, faster, and more athletic version of Diggs.

College Film

There is a lot of film on Justin Jefferson to help illustrate some of the qualities he brings to the table for the Vikings in the coming years. Taking a closer look at his tape, I can see why Gary Kubiak really wanted to draft him, and I’m sure Kirk Cousins will be well pleased with his selection as well.

Let’s start with a highlight reel that shows in general how Jefferson was used in the LSU offense, and what he was able to do last season:

As you can see, Jefferson was used almost exclusively as a slot receiver in 2019, and worked mainly quick slants and intermediate crossing routes, with occasional vertical routes as well. He was also a very effective weapon in the red zone, and on occasional jet sweeps.

Jefferson was effective on the slants with good timing and selling fakes, while in intermediate crossing routes he was able to find the open space in primarily zone coverage. In both cases, Jefferson does not fear the contact that often comes with over the middle routes.

In the red zone, his route running ability was again on display, which is covered a bit more in this next two videos:

All that is the technical knowledge and ability to sell the fakes that get just enough lean or false steps from a defensive back to gain separation.

But on the deep vertical routes, there are also times when more than anything, it’s Jefferson’s ability to track the ball, body control and ability to adjust to the ball in the air, shown in this next clip:

As you can see in the first play, Jefferson reminds me of another Jefferson - John - from back in the Air Coryell days in San Diego, with his ability to go up and make the spectacular catch. Those are skills you really can’t coach. The last play in the above clip also shows how Jefferson is able to adjust to a poorly thrown ball - well behind him - on a short out route. He’s able to stop on a dime, change direction, and get his arms out and pluck the ball out of the air well behind him - preventing an incompletion or worse a pick-six. Clearly a ‘quarterback’s best friend’ in his ability to track and adjust to the ball and come down with contested catches. It’s those types of plays that earn the trust, and more targets, from quarterbacks.

Jefferson also has some good yards-after-catch ability as well, averaging over 6 YAC yards per reception last season at LSU. Below are some good examples:

Jefferson also has both good hands, and is a very effective blocker for a wide receiver, as shown in this Matt Waldman video. Waldman often looks at what is seemingly minutia in evaluating offensive skill position players, and yet can be key indicators as much as anything when it comes to a player’s skillset:

Below is some more clips of Jefferson’s blocking ability:

As you can see, LSU used a lot of off-tackle bunch sets, which called on Jefferson to block on occasion - either a DB or a LB. Jefferson has 33” arms, which are long for a 6’1” receiver. Not only does he put them to good use as a receiver, but also as a blocker, getting full extension into a defenders shoulder pads, while sinking his hips and keeping a wide base. As a 200 pound receiver, he’s not going to keep linebackers at bay for very long, but he is one of the most effective blocking receivers I’ve seen in college, showing both good willingness to take on the duty, and very good effectiveness usually when doing so.

Vikings Fit / Projection

Justin’s Jefferson’s skill set and use in the LSU offense is a good match for what he’ll be asked to do in the Vikings offensive scheme under offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

While the scheme’s themselves are much different - LSU ran a high-powered spread offense, passing the ball maybe 75% of the time - Jefferson’s role in that offense will be very similar to his role in Kubiak’s more balanced, double-TE scheme.

Kubiak said today that Jefferson will take over Diggs’ role as the X receiver, which may include a lot of use in the slot, slants, crossing routes, and the occasional deep vertical route - just like what Diggs did. Jefferson may have a bit more value in the run game, however, being able to block a defensive back or linebacker long enough for Dalvin Cook or Alexander Mattison to get by, while also being a potent receiving threat.

Kubiak also said that LSU uses the same terminology as his offense, so that should help flatten the learning curve for Jefferson, and allow him to get up to speed quickly.

Bottom line, Justin Jefferson looks well positioned to take over the role vacated by Stefon Diggs, and being more pro-ready than most college receivers, he could have a big impact on the Vikings offense, even as a rookie.