Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 27: LSU WR Justin Jefferson

Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

27. LSU WR Justin Jefferson

6-foot-1, 202 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.00 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Not a burner, but a long, lean and reliable slot receiver with terrific hands and contested-catch skills.

The skinny: A 2-star Rivals recruit, Jefferson chose the Tigers over Nicholls State. And it was no surprise he went to LSU, given that his brothers, Jordan and Rickey, both played at the school.

Justin played sparingly as a true freshman in 2017, but in 2018, Jefferson earned a starting role — mostly as an outside receiver — and caught 54 passes for 875 yards and six TDs in 13 games. Then in 2019, Jefferson moved into the slot and tied for the FBS lead in receptions with 111, totaling 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns, second in the country to teammate Ja’Marr Chase.

Jefferson, who turns 21 years old in June, declared early for the 2020 NFL draft. He participated in the 40-yard dash, both jumping drills and positional work.

Upside: Nice, long frame — good height and wingspan (78 inches). Excels in contested-catch situations — times his jumps and has excellent concentration to make the play. Positions his body well and shows excellent body control. Has made some acrobatic catches the past few years — ball skills for days.

Savvy route runner — uses tempo changes and varied footwork to sell fakes. Navigates traffic well and sees the soft spots in defenses. Uses a hesitation move and a dead leg to freeze corners and safeties. Works from slow and patient to quick and sudden in his movement. Uses “rocker steps” at the top of his routes to get DBs on their heels and natural create separation.

Here’s some strong work on a touchdown against Ole Miss where Jefferson (lined up in the right slot) easily uncovers after a quick jab outside before ripping off the slant:

Jefferson executes a textbook slant to create space for an easy score.
Jefferson executes a textbook slant to create space for an easy score.

And now watch this route against Florida, where Jefferson gives a really subtle one-step fake to the corner, and it’s just enough for the safety to keep drifting backward and open up a huge gain on the post:

This is some really savvy route running before Jefferson makes his cut.
This is some really savvy route running before Jefferson makes his cut.

Better-than-expected combine numbers — 40-yard dash (4.43 seconds), 10-yard split (1.54 seconds), vertical jump (37 1/2 inches) and broad jump (10-foot-6) all in the very good-to-excellent range. Really nice play strength. Slips through tackle attempts with regularity.

Reliability factor is a huge plus. Clutch performer and high-floor prospect who produced over two seasons against some of the best DB talent in the countr. Caught a whopping 82.8 percent of his targets (111 of 134) last season, highest of any FBS wide receiver with more than 65 targets in 2019.

Late bloomer, and best football appears to be ahead of him. Gets after it as a blocker — takes those duties seriously. Well-liked and respected player in the program. Self-made worker who appears to have mentality to handle daily NFL grind. Carries underdog chip on his shoulder. Cast his own course at LSU after two older brothers attended the school.

Downside: Lean, wiry frame. Entered LSU program around 170 pounds. Might need a year or more in an NFL weight-training program to muscle up a bit. Hands are on the smaller side (9 1/8 inches). Drops tended to come on lower, shorter passes or those just outside his frame — lets a few makable ones slip through his fingers

Almost never faced press coverage last year — only a handful of reps outside in 2019. Still needs to show he can beat one-on-one coverage from the outside consistently. Majority of catches came near the line of scrimmage — lots of slants, screens and speed outs.

Needs to create better separation and will cut off some routes while chopping out of breaks. Can get bumped off of route trajectory with contact. Not overly elusive or dynamic after the catch. Scouts felt like he played more like a mid-4.5 40 receiver than to his combine time.

Production inflated by LSU’s high-flying offense in 2019. Frequently saw favorable coverages in Steve Ensminger’s and Joe Brady’s system. Wasn’t the top target on his own team last season. Might lack one truly distinguishing trait.

Best-suited destination: Jefferson is an easy-to-appreciate prospect for his ability to maximize his skill set and win in multiple ways. He likely will never be a game-changing weapon, but Jefferson profiles as a very reliable “big slot” who can add a layer of security for a quarterback in a diverse passing attack.

Teams that could be interested include the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Las Vegas Raiders, New England Patriots, Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints.

Did you know: Oldest brother Jordan had an up-and-down four years with the Tigers from 2008 to 2011, leading LSU to the national title game that season but struggling in the loss to Alabama. He briefly was on the roster of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played in the CFL and other professional leagues and is now a WR coach at Colorado State.

Middle brother Rickey played at LSU from 2013 to 2016 started in the secondary his final two years in school. He was on the rosters of the New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders but never appeared in an NFL game.

Their father, John, played college basketball for two years at Division-II Nebraska Western before transferring to Louisiana-Monroe.

They said it: “Coach [Orgeron] really put his trust in me and gave me a chance here, and I’m very happy that he did. I had a walk-on locker. I came late, but I definitely had that chip on the shoulder. I had something to prove.”

— Jefferson at Peach Bowl Media Day

Player comp: We previously compared him to Cooper Kupp in terms of how he can help transform an offense, but Jefferson’s ceiling might be Keenan Allen (h/t Yahoo Sports fantasy analyst Liz Loza).

Expected draft range: First-round pick

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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