Justin Jefferson's strengths align well with Packers' weaknesses
Latest in a Packers Prospects series looking at players Green Bay could select in the April 23-25 NFL draft.
GREEN BAY - As Joe Burrow’s star rose into what became a Heisman Trophy season, he pulled his teammates on the LSU offense with him.
Perhaps none benefited from Burrow’s magical year more than receiver Justin Jefferson. After a solid but unremarkable sophomore season, Jefferson exploded into one of the best receivers in college football as a junior. His 111 receptions were tied for first in the nation, while his 1,540 yards were third and his 18 touchdowns were second.
Jefferson’s breakout season culminated in a college football playoffs to remember. He had 14 catches for 227 yards and four touchdowns in the national semifinal against Oklahoma. Jefferson followed that historic performance with nine catches for 106 yards in the national championship game, which LSU won against Clemson.
That Jefferson was especially effective out of the slot should intrigue Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst. The Packers lacked for offensive playmakers around their formation in coach Matt LaFleur’s first year, but their void in the slot was a season-long problem with no solution. That void remains as the team prepares for 2020, meaning a slot specialist such as the 6-1, 202-pound Jefferson would be an ideal fit.
Jefferson lined up more on the perimeter early in his career, so he should have the versatility the Packers covet at receiver. The Packers crosstrain their receivers in multiple positions, rather than keeping them in one spot. But Jefferson’s strength aligns with their greatest weakness.
It’s unclear where Jefferson will be drafted in the first round. He could be long gone by the time the Packers make their first selection with the 30th overall pick. If he is available, Jefferson’s combination of speed, playmaking and route running could catch their attention.
Age next season: 21.
Combine measurables: 4.43 40, 37.5-inch vertical jump, 126-inch broad jump.
Stats: 111 catches, 1,540 yards, 18 touchdowns.
Pro Football Focus analysis: His role began to increase as a sophomore in 2018. Jefferson played 697 offensive snaps, primarily out wide, and he served as an effective target in the passing game. He averaged more than 16 yards per reception while generating a passer rating of 121.4 on his 85 targets. Jefferson shifted inside to play 78% of his snaps from the slot last season, and he saw career highs in PFF grade (85.3), receptions (111), receiving yards (1,540) and receiving touchdowns (18). A big part of that was obviously the offensive environment that Burrow and passing game coordinator Joe Brady helped make possible, but Jefferson deserves his share of credit as well.
Draftniks say: “I think Justin Jefferson has got a chance to be a high, high volume slot receiver a lot like Keenan Allen, can fill that role, can work in traffic. He's really good down in the red zone. He led this entire draft class with touchdowns down in the red zone this year at 12. So, he's a point producer.” – Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network
Quotable: “My ability to get in and out of routes, I’m very versatile. I can do slot and outside. Just being able to play different positions on the field.” – Justin Jefferson