NFL offensive and defensive coordinators should have learned one lesson apiece watching LSU receiver Justin Jefferson dominate his team’s College Football Playoff semifinal win over Oklahoma.
For the offensive play-caller: Play him in the slot.
For the defensive play-caller: Avoid using off coverage against him.
Against a Sooners defense that was chasing their collective tail, Jefferson had 14 catches for 224 yards and four touchdowns in LSU’s 63-28 rout.
While not regarded in the top tier with Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, Jefferson will make an offense better, including the Broncos.
“My ability to get in and out of routes (separates him from other receivers),” Jefferson said at the scouting combine. “I’m very versatile because I can play the slot and outside.”
Jefferson was LSU’s leading receiver in 2018, catching 54 passes for 875 yards and six touchdowns.
But then Joe Brady arrived from the New Orleans Saints’ staff to run the Tigers passing game and coach the receivers. Brady moved Jefferson from outside receiver to the slot.
Jefferson led FBS with 111 catches and was second in yards (1,540) and touchdown catches (16) behind teammate Ja’Marr Chase (1,790 yards-20 touchdowns).
Long before he burst onto the national scene, LSU fans knew of Jefferson when he signed, but primarily because he had two older brothers, Jordan and Ricky, who played for the Tigers.
Justin Jefferson was the 2,164th-ranked recruit in the nation according to 247sports. But he made a near-instant impression.
“I’ll never forget — he ran a ‘sluggo’ route and just wowed everybody,” coach Ed Orgeron said last year. “He came in here and didn’t say a word and worked hard. Joe Brady’s come in and taught him how to run routes and done a tremendous job with him catching the football. The bottom line: He’s a competitor. He wants the ball in his hands.”
Teamed with Brady, now the Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator, and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, Jefferson had eight 100-yard games and 10 games of at least seven catches. He wanted the football and got the football.
A go-to for Jefferson was option routes out of the slot. One coverage meant one route, another coverage meant another route and so on. Jefferson’s football IQ was on display against Oklahoma.
Taking advantage of Oklahoma’s off coverage, Jefferson would use shuffling steps to get the defender off balance and then hit the accelerator.
Thirteen of Jefferson’s 14 catches came from the slot. He had nine post-catch yards on his first touchdown, ran by his defender on the second, used an out-and-up route on the third and, from a stacked formation, ran an “over” route to get his opponent off balance on the fourth. He had one dropped pass and Burrow overthrew him for what would have been a fifth touchdown.
Jefferson declared for the draft shortly after the Tigers’ national title game win over Clemson. At the combine, he checked in at 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds, seventh-fastest among the 45 receivers who ran.
The Broncos have not signed a receiver in free agency, a potential tell that they plan to select one early in the draft. Jefferson should be intriguing for every team because of the versatility, speed and want-to.
“Justin, he’s a different type of competitor,” LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton said. “He wants to win every rep.”
Hometown: St. Rose, La.
Statistics: Led LSU in receiving in 2018 with 54 catches for 875 yards and six touchdowns. … As a third-year junior in ’19, led nation in catches (111) and was second to teammate Ja’Marr Chase in yards (1,540) and touchdowns (18). … Caught 14 passes for 224 yards and four touchdowns in CFP semifinal win over Oklahoma. … Ran the 40-yard dash at combine in 4.43 seconds, tied for seventh fastest among receivers.
Fit for Broncos: Because he can play outside and inside and run the required routes of both positions, Jefferson would be a terrific addition for the Broncos, particularly if they trade down from No. 15 into the 20s.