'Why Justin Jefferson?'
The Junior from St. Rose, Louisiana broke out in a big way in during LSU’s historic championship run surpassing 100 receptions and 1,500 yards while scoring 18 touchdowns.
During the 2020 NFL Combine Jefferson also turned some heads with surprising athletic measurables, but still some believe Jefferson is not a multi-dimensional player in terms of position versatility.
There is much more to Jefferson than meets the eye, but ‘why’ was he a first round selection?
1 - Disguising route concepts
Justin Jefferson in a nutshell.
He's an extremely high level mover for an athlete with his limb length.
Watch here how his knees are completely parallel to the sideline. This disguises his true break point.
His ability to snap out of this, shift his angles & accelerate back inside is nothing short of impressive.
Jefferson can and does operate efficiently away from the slot.
If the defender gives him room to operate at the line of scrimmage it is difficult to anticipate where & when he is going to make his break.
A false step by corner as he sells outside opportunity creates just enough separation for Jefferson to win inside.
2 - Variation of pace & tempo
Jefferson consistently causes ‘extra action,’ which is inefficient, excess movement from the defender.
He does this by manipulating pace & tempo during routes, as well as at the line of scrimmage.
Notice how well he can pause, and re-accelerate into his route.
Particularly in the short to intermediate areas is where we see Jefferson win.
De’Andre Hopkins of the Houston Texans made this release famous, and Jefferson uses it well by lulling his defender out of position to create enough separation to make a play.
We saw Jefferson using shifts in pace & tempo during his routes and at the line of scrimmage.
Those same qualities are used after the catch and are a big reason why Jefferson is so dangerous with the ball in his hands.
Jefferson has an abrupt, and dramatic decelerative element to his game which is similar to that of former Alabama star receiver, Jerry Jeudy.
Watch how this impacts the pursuit of #19.
Jefferson has an advanced understanding & instinctive grasp on what a defenders angles mean in terms of pursuit.
#27 has his angles towards the boundary taking away outside opportunity, meaning the most efficient path is to break inside towards the hash.
After that, we see the dramatic deceleration that sends #25 to the canvas.
3 - Reliable Redzone & 3rd down option
A common misconception about Justin Jefferson is that he only makes plays between the hashes.
As a primary option on especially important downs it’s critical to have versatility in how you win.
Jefferson has that versatility, which is a primary reason why he scored 18 touchdowns in 2019.
Jefferson was Joe Burrow’s best friend on third downs.
He is as reliable as they come, and we see his ability to win by manipulating pace & tempo in crucial situations.
An area that makes Jefferson such a threat in the Red Zone is how well he plays off-schedule.
Being on the same page as your signal-caller is priority one is these situations.
Both Burrow & Jefferson had an undeniable connection during their historic championship run.
4 - Mid-flight adjustments & away from frame receptions
Down the field Jefferson is a threat, not only because of his 4.43 speed, but due to the fluid nature in which he adjusts to the football.
Timing is a big component when the ball is in flight, and is an area where Jefferson shines.
We see the in-air athleticism show up on deeper patterns.
Even though Jefferson was primarily targeted in the short to intermediate areas that does not mean that he isn’t capable at all three levels.
Again, Jefferson’s in-air capabilities on full display.
His length & leaping ability bring a different dimension in contested catch situations.
Jefferson’s reliability in the Red Zone was touched on earlier, and like was said, it’s his versatility in this respect that has him finding the end-zone with frequency.
This is a box he checks as he makes his way to the next level.
5 - Success on manufactured touches & gaining yards after catch
A question I am hearing about Jefferson is:
Can he be an impact player on plays designed for him around the line of scrimmage?
The answer is yes.
His movement skills, show up here just as they do when you watch him run routes.
During one on one engagements Jefferson is likely to quickly ‘flash’ opportunity and then take it away.
We see this a lot from former Georgia Running Back, D’Andre Swift as it is a main part of his movement toolbox.
For Jefferson, this is a go-to in space and helps him to quickly get up field after the catch.
6 - Play speed
The 4.43 Jefferson ran at the combine shows up on tape when you watch him quickly get on the outside hip of defensive backs.
He is a plus accelerator and can create separation down the field.
Jefferson’s stride length is a physical quality that stands out as well.
7 - Physicality & willingness as a blocker
One of the main reasons why Jefferson will immediately be a middle of the field threat in the NFL is how well he takes contact.
He has a fearlessness about him that is a prerequisite to operate over the middle.
Jefferson is as physical as they come as a run blocker, and regularly makes plays away from the ball.
His willingness to mix it up with defensive backs and linebackers is a plus trait for his offensive coordinator.
8 - Landing spot: Minnesota Vikings
Extremely fond of this spot for Jefferson. He now has a chance to take the reigns as the WR1 in Minnesota if Adam Thielen decides to test free agency after the 2020 season.
Even though they are a run first team Jefferson's proficiency as a red zone option should show up immediately and help Kirk Cousins put points on the board for an offense that will need to in a difficult NFC North.
9 - 'Who is Justin Jefferson?'
Reliable is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Justin Jefferson. Despite some viewing Jefferson as lacking the skill set to be a versatile NFL receiver, it is evident that he has both the physical and tactical tools to be an impact player in an NFL offense. Jefferson comes into the NFL with over 80% catch rate in his final season. Like I mentioned...reliable.
What was Justin Jefferson's most run route of 2019? The "Go route". As solid as Jefferson is in the short-to-intermediate areas of the field, it is clear that he is a three level threat. Style wise, he reminds me a bit of Los Angeles Chargers receiver, Keenan Allen. Long, sudden and as proficient as they come in the short-to-intermediate areas. Jefferson has as much upside as Allen as a pure slot receiver, but it's Jefferson's ability to move around and win at all three levels that has him coming into the league with Pro-bowl level contribution. My only true question is how he deals with the size and strength of NFL cornerbacks attacking him in press coverage. Jefferson has the skill set to succeed despite being pressed, but experience here is key to improvement.
From a fantasy standpoint, Jefferson can make an immediate impact as a reliable playmaker for an offense and has the upside to be a mid-tier WR3 to a low-end WR2 by the end of his Rookie season. For his future, he can be a consistent WR2 with borderline WR1 production.
Reliability in crucial situations
Inexperience against press coverage