Coming off a national title win, Justin Jefferson chose to declare for the NFL Draft instead of returning for his senior season. He enters after a true junior season that saw him catch 111 passes for over 1,500 receiving yards and 18 receiving touchdowns. He’s not the top WR in nearly anyone’s rankings, but if we put his production in some context, he’s got a good case for the top spot in the class.
Jefferson was a three-star recruit from Destrehan, Louisiana — about a 1.5-hour drive from LSU’s stadium. His home state university was by far the most prestigious program — and one of only three Power Five schools — to make him an offer.
After unofficially redshirting his freshman season, Jefferson broke out in his true sophomore year.
The Box Score Scout rounds Jefferson’s breakout age to the nearest tenth, but because his birthday is in January, he in fact broke out before turning 20.1
If Jefferson’s sophomore year was a breakout, his junior year was an explosion, at least from a counting stats perspective. What’s surprising is that despite nearly doubling his yards and tripling his touchdowns, Jefferson’s market share stats declined slightly. The reason for the decline is that Jefferson wasn’t even the best receiver on his own team:
Jefferson was the Jarvis Landry to Ja’Marr Chase’s Odell Beckham. We’ve seen this dynamic play out a few times in recent years: Both A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf exceeded expectations in their rookie seasons. While we had Brown as high as No. 2 overall in last year’s class, even we couldn’t have foreseen the year he just had.
The key difference between the Beckham-Landry or Brown-Metcalf situations and the Jefferson-Chase duo is that neither of the first two pairs caught passes from a Heisman winner and likely No. 1 overall pick. It’s easy to see how Joe Burrow elevated the offense in 2019. He is at least partly responsible for the outrageous numbers his receivers put up. But there’s a chicken-and-egg question here.
Whatever the case may be, we have to wait one more year for the next OBJ. The next Landry, however, is in the current class, which is already starting to look a little weaker than we initially hoped.2
How Does Jefferson Stack Up?
Potential stars saturate the 2020 class, with possibly six different WRs projected to go off the board in the first round in many mocks. But many of the top WRs in the class have riskier profiles than we’d like. Few of them broke out before age 20 — some didn’t break out at all. The Fantasy Twitter favorites — Bryan Edwards and Tyler Johnson — are both coming off of their senior seasons, which has historically been a massive red flag.
In fact, only two WRs in the current class both declared after their true junior seasons and broke out before age 20: Jalen Reagor and Jefferson.3 Reagor, though, falls short of a stupid simple threshold that has correctly identified multiple early-round busts with otherwise excellent prospect profiles: he averaged less than 0.5 TDs per game in his final season.4
If your prospect evaluation process involves finding guys who check all the boxes, Jefferson is the only WR prospect in this class you can really feel confident about.
A draft-agnostic look at Jefferson’s comps is already encouraging:
Jefferson’s closest comp, Chris Godwin, also declared early from Penn State and broke out in his true sophomore season at just under 20 years old.
Jefferson’s high school testing suggests he’s unlikely to replicate Godwin’s speed or athleticism at the combine, but as we know, athleticism probably doesn’t matter as much as other aspects of a WR prospect’s profile.
If we assume late first- or early second-round draft capital, many of the same names show up, but a few new comps rise to the top:
These names evince a wide range of outcomes, though all have shown some promise at the NFL level, if not sustained success.
Where Should You Draft Jefferson?
I have Jefferson ranked as my WR3 in the current crop of rookies, behind CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy. Why not WR1, considering he checks every box? Both Jeudy and Lamb have a decent shot to go off the board within the first 10 picks. Both declared early and played in prolific offenses with excellent teammates, much like Jefferson. Lamb’s 1,100 yards while sharing the field with Marquise Brown speaks to his ability. His 39% Dominator Rating in his final season confirms it. Jeudy never broke out,5 but as Curtis Patrick explains, that might not matter.
Jefferson is arguably the most complete WR prospect in the class, having almost all the elements we like to see (pre-combine). He broke out early, declared early, and did it in a prolific offense with ample touch competition. That he still doesn’t top my rankings should tell you I was wrong to imply this class is weak.
Image Credit: Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Justin Jefferson.
- We measure breakout age as a player’s age on December 31 of the year he broke out. Jefferson turned 20 on January 16, 2019, giving him true breakout age of 19.96. (back)
- RIP Tylan Wallace. He’s not dead; just dead to me. (back)
- The Box Score Scout also lists Reagor’s breakout age as 20.0. Reagor turned 20 on January 1, 2019, giving him a true breakout age of 19.997 (back)
- This is not a death blow for Reagor’s NFL outlook, but it is an additional risk that Jefferson avoids. I recently gave up a king’s ransom to pull Reagor away from one of his biggest fans, Curtis Patrick, in a Kitchen Sink league. So don’t infer that I’m avoiding Reagor because of his lack of touchdowns. (back)
- Despite the more than 1,300 yards and 14 TDs in 2018, Jeudy only achieved a 27% Dominator Rating in Alabama’s prolific offense. That number dropped to 23% last season. (back)