Statistical Profile: A modest sophomore season (54-875-6) had me heralding Jefferson as one of college football’s underrated studs last summer, but even I couldn’t have foreseen the breakout that was about to happen in 2019. Working almost exclusively from the slot, Jefferson grabbed 111 balls for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging almost 14 yards per catch on his way to helping LSU earn a national championship.
Scouting Jefferson: The difficult part about Jefferson’s projection is that he plays almost entirely in the slot, often operating with a lot of space off the snap and working heavily against zone coverage. He may have some level of adjustment to the NFL, but Jefferson’s size, speed and elite ball skills should be up for the test.
The LSU junior posted a 93 percent contested catch rate this past season, showing the leaping ability, body control and strong hands to elevate and pluck above the rim. Jefferson’s frame is relatively slight, but he was undeterred by contact at the catch point, and always seemed to find the football early and make smooth adjustments to reel in balls placed all around him.
I do have some concerns with Jefferson’s ability to separate on in and out-breaking routes against man coverage in the short-intermediate areas of the field, as he throttles down heavily at the top of his pattern. He can throw in some deceptive footwork to tilt corners in off coverage, but he needs to hit breaks at full speed more often to maximize separation.
What he can do however is separate vertically (at least on the inside), as the lanky receiver consistently runs by coverage on slot fades. Jefferson tracks the ball very well, making tough catches outside his frame look routine. He’s got some of the best hands in the draft, and they show up at all levels of the field, including while taking a hit over the middle. Jefferson is also terrific at identifying and understanding coverage in the middle of the field, constantly finding space against zone defenses and making life easy for his quarterback.
After the catch Jefferson is slippery and tough, but not especially elusive or twitched up. He might run through a tackle or two, and he’s always looking for ways to create, but his athletic traits aren’t best utilized with the ball in his hands because of his lack of explosiveness.
What Jefferson provides an offense is strong hands, great ball skills and the ability to win vertically/in the deep middle of the field to keep a defense honest. I don’t think he’ll ever thrive as the focal point of a team’s passing attack, but he can absolutely keep drives moving and help finish possessions in the end zone as a high end no. 2 receiver. Time will tell if he has the versatility to play inside or outside, but even if his usage comes heavily from the slot, Jefferson can be a mismatch that opposing defenses have a tough time defending.
Bucs Fit: Jefferson is actually a pretty good fit for the Bucs, especially if he shows he can play outside as well. He checks the boxes they like in size, speed and leaping ability, and he thrived in a vertical attack that has some similarities to Bruce Arians’ scheme.
But Jefferson is expected to come off the board in Round 1, and obviously wouldn’t be a Bucs consideration at that point in the draft unless they trade back from No. 14. If he slid to No. 45 it is worth considering, but that seems pretty unlikely given the way his stock has continued to soar since the beginning of the college football season.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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