68 1st down receptions
17 third down conversions
27 gains of 15+ yards
Made Opp. Miss After Catch: 26x
Dropped TDs: 3
-4 multiple-TD games (4 vs Oklahoma, 3 vs Texas)
-13.9 yards per catch over 15 games
Although the newly ordained #7 returns for his junior year in 2020, Justin Jefferson just finished his own penultimate season with 1st Round NFL reliability, the seismic stats and unavoidable measurables to shut up the doubters, clutch performances in big games to satisfy NFL contenders, and a deceptive pace which went full throttle during his 40 yard dash at the Combine.
Before the 4.43 time, there were NFL GMs removing Jefferson from their boards, "purely out of concerns over his speed"...to be honest, the truth is even more embarrassing:
Jefferson was only marginally considered an NFL talent:
We heard many say "sure I can get 14 catches from Joe Burrow, too, but he's only performed at a high level for 12 months"..."he isn't tall, he isn't long, he isn't faster than sound, he doesn't have the dexterity, the agility...the finesse to bypass the first hit": at best, he was a prime 3rd down option and 4th receiver on any roster...if you listened to the people in charge of draft speculation.
But of course, none of these NFL "geniuses" ever cared to review the kid's lightning pace on tape:
Jefferson isn't like most speedsters: to get in stride, he takes a gallop or two, uses his underrated vision and put 26 different defenders to sleep with his world class cuts, slicing and dicing Alabama's Xavier McKinney and putting Clemson's Tanner Muse to sleep during the most GIF'd moment of the title game.
He made 10 more defenders miss than Ja'Marr Chase, a clear sign of the laziness of these Draft analysts.
Averaging 7.8 yards per rush throughout 2018, Jefferson displayed a knack for elusive moves in the secondary or line of scrimmage, and he put those well known Jefferson jukes, cuts and twists to sexy use...
Although his best asset has to be his aerial ability...posting a contested catch rate of 92.3 percent, according to Pro Football Focus.
No other receiver had a rate over 66.7 percent, and 50 percent is above average...still NFL General mangers dropped him to the 2nd round or lower...
This was NO POSSESSION RECEIVER...
Justin Jefferson had been nearly as dangerous in the YAC department, too, registering 16.4 and 16.2 over the two postseason games at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Atlanta; then in the Superdome vs Clemson, Jefferson contributed heavily, receiving five 1st downs, averaging 11 yards a grab, and juking out a season-high six opposition defenders after the catch....against the #1 defense in college football...
He turned on the afterburners for many big plays throughout 2019, most notably on 3rd and 17 vs Texas, but he'd taken the football for a ride of 35+ yards on eleven occasions during the championship campaign, including genius contortions for 71, 42 and 35 yards in each one of LSU's postseason matchups.
LSU took advantage of Jefferson's deceptive speed, motioning him across the formation and into the backfield, Joe snapping the ball and either dumping it off to Jefferson or faking it; Such was the opposition's fear of Jefferson breaking loose, these sets almost always led to a big gain from either Clyde or Thaddeus in the flat, Joe tossing it long to Chase or Marshall, ,or running it up the gut himself....all due to the defense buying the fake or at least being so scared of the consequences from one of JJet's big plays.
However, before he'd even arrived on campus, speed wasn't the only question Justin had to address....his entire football career was apparently up to the debate of fools...
As part of the historic 2017 LSU class, Justin arrived from Destrehan, Louisiana....Geaux 247 rating him as a two star recruit....while disrespectful ESPN didn't even attempt to grade him!
He wasn't just thought of as a lower ranked receiver who's success would be a pipe dream...horrifically, he wasn't even thought of....thrown away, castoff...and it would be this rejection which would fuel his rise.
“I like my ranking,” Jefferson said. “I like that I was a two-star and under the radar. It just makes me more eager to do what I do.”
Though he started at quarterback first, he switched to wide receiver as a sophomore and "the rest is history" as Destrehan Coach Stephen Robicheaux explained to Geaux247.
Robicheaux coached former LSU QB Jordan Jefferson at Destrehan back in the late 2000s, while he also led Jordan's brothers Ricky and Justin in the mid to late 2010s
Although Justin put up a considerable amount of good film at Destrehan High School, he became lost in the shuffle alongside teammate (future Notre Dame) receiver Michael Young.
Destrehan Coach Stephen Robicheaux acknowledged Justin's "175 lb, skinny frame" and the fact he "dripped with athleticism" but pointed to the obvious factor as to why school after school passed on Justin:
"They all saw that last name....and if any of them were doing their jobs correctly, they knew about his family roots at LSU...they all knew he wasn't going anywhere else..."
Despite his familial connections to Louisiana State University, his brothers Rickey and Jordan both having moderate to successful careers in Baton Rouge, the obstacles in front of Justin were pointing to a "third Jefferson not being a charm".
Still, as a young kid, Justin Jefferson had LSU branded upon his last name:
Watching his older brother Jordan lead the team to an SEC title and a 13-0 start, #1 BCS ranking and a national championship game defeat to Alabama at the Superdome, Justin took in the experiences of the university, the locker room culture...he became friends with many of older brother Jordan's teammates, many remembering the stringy, spiky haired kid.
Justin could also be found exploring the dormant campus with Les Miles' young son Ben, the two 9 year olds getting into vague mischief as they explored the wonder of what laid before them.
His friendship with Ben Miles became so strong Justin was often found sleeping over at the LSU Head Coach's home: the feeling between both Jeffersons and Miles was akin to neighborly love...
"It always felt like home over there," Justin described his childhood nights spent at the Miles home.
Even as Jordan won the SEC and took LSU to a title game at the Superdome (an event Justin remembers attending vividly...more on that later), he became a problem child and a thorn in the side of Coach Les Miles' beleaguered, befuddled staff:
During a bar fight scuffle, Jordan got arrested after booting a man in the face while he laid on the ground, later adding marijuana charges to the list.
In 2013, history repeated itself when Rickey, then a recent LSU signee, punched a plain-clothes detective in the face and head repeatedly after arresting one of Rickey's friends....once again alcohol-related Mardi Gras insanity outside of a bar costing LSU as a team.
In fact, as Bleacher Report's Brett Stephen reported in 2013, there was a bizarre, unspoken loyalty afforded to both Jordan and Rickey Jefferson:
"Miles had an undeniable and unexplainable loyalty to Jefferson during his time as the LSU quarterback. He continued that loyalty to the Jefferson family by extending a scholarship offer to his younger brother, despite Jordan’s off-the-field problems.
The Jeffersons obviously have difficulties staying out of trouble, and LSU does not need to take on another project after recent history with Jordan and Tyrann Mathieu.
As a coach, you don’t want to give up on a kid after one incident, but this case is different. Rickey watched as his brother unraveled as an LSU player. If he did not learn from his brother’s very public mistakes, then he’s not someone that you can trust to stay out of trouble going forward."
- by Brett Stephen (Bleacher Report, 2013)
Thank god that guy wasn't our athletic director...
The Jefferson family became persona non grata around LSU media, the articles, salacious stories and hyper-detailed analysis of the brothers' private lives became a Cirque Du Soleil version of TMZ...
This affected every scout's perception of Justin, years later...tainting their brain with anything but football...
Throughout his entire upbringing, the name Jefferson & his brothers' accomplishments were either thrown in his face as something he could never achieve himself, or their recent troubles became a boulder tied around Justin's waste....all before scouts had even met the young man.....they saw the name Jefferson and balked:
"Well, LSU can have him as yet another screw-up or he'll be semi-good and fill a spot...either way, he's not a player we're wasting our time on...after all, he's probably a troublemaker."
Looking beyond the media noise and criticism Orgeron had been through himself, Coach O could foresee special qualities or ingrained intangibles within the Destrehan native. Noticing a chance to grab a "Secret 5-Star", Coach Orgeron bucked the trend, discarded the bullshit and echoed Miles' Jefferson loyalty...committing to Justin first:
"If he ever wants to come be a Tiger, if he can pass admissions, he'll always have a scholarship with us here," Coach O graciously offered Destrehan's Coach Robicheaux, understanding the unspoken loyalty between the Jefferson family and Louisiana State's football program.
As he watched his teammate Michael Young grab all the attention, plaudits and belief in his abilities, Justin's above-average senior numbers, 956 yards from 44 receptions and 9 touchdowns, did nothing to bring more interest either...and he began to wonder what the hell he ever did to get this type of treatment.
Was he too undersized?
Was he not tall enough?
Is it the family history which made teams back off, expecting Justin to feel entitled?
Were his stats not as explosive as they could've been?
Underneath it all....could Justin be a bad kid???
The scouts' concerns or disinterest made those closest to Justin's situation scoff...they would've laughed had the hushed whispers in the shadows failed to compromise Justin's recruitment...
Everything had been conjecture, nothing was based on any concrete evidence of Justin's "wrongdoings"....and right now as I type this, I can bet you there's NFL investigators prowling around the community of Destrehan, Louisiana looking for anything they can find:
How could someone so good be valued so little?
"If they thought Justin had been a trouble-maker..." Jordan, his eldest brother laughs to himself, "they don't get how, even though he was our little brother, he'd always been the one to keep us in check..."
At the same time, LSU's recruitment of Jefferson never wavered, with Orgeron & LSU's passing game coordinator Jerry Sullivan (an NFL lifer) seeing massive potential in the receiver.
Jerry once told Robicheaux, Justin's high school coach, "This young man will be in the NFL soon enough..." Though Robicheaux didn't quite believe what he'd heard at the time, Sullivan knew what was up concerning Jefferson's talents... Sullivan wasn't the only one believing in Justin firmly:
Family friend and Jordan's 2011 teammate Odell Beckham Jr became a mentor to Justin, coaching him up and providing another successful (though often misunderstood) example for the young Jefferson.
As his senior year came to a close, Justin's only offer came from Nichols State...before Robicheaux gave #2 fantastic news:
LSU finally came to the table, offering Justin their promised scholarship...like Lloyd Cushenberry the year before, this would be the football program's final scholarship offer of 2017....two of the Top 5 Tigers of 2019 being the last players accepted in each of their class....an incredible testament to the detail-obsessed, fine tooth-comb mania of Coach Orgeron's recruiting nexus.
Although things looked up, Justin needed a single English credit to qualify for LSU academically or he'd be spending his freshman year at a JUCO school... a race against time to make up the credits and get to LSU wore down the family.
Justin's mother explained the hellish ordeal "After that summer, when he finally got the letter in the mail saying he'd been accepted by LSU, I dropped and cried my eyes out...finally...it meant so much to our family..."
Because of the bizarre delay, Justin signed for LSU as the Tigers already began fall camp, Jefferson officially signing on August 2nd 2017 before hitting up the team practices after missing the first day.
"I came the second day of fall camp and they didn't have any more lockers so I had to go get locker 118....all the good numbers were taken so I had to take #32...I couldn't do #32 again," Jefferson detailed to the "Hey Fightin" podcast last September. "People knew me because I was Jordan and Rickey's brother but at the same time they were like "you're a walk-on."
Justin was so late to things at LSU, his freshman campaign became a watch, learn, play a little...rinse and repeat trial by fire...over and over again...bizarrely, Jefferson rushed the ball more than he caught passes in 2017 (0 catches, 1 rush for 4 yards vs Arkansas).
2017 offensive coordinator Matt Canada showed a profound lack of imagination or understanding of the talent across the LSU roster, to the extent where Canada looked at guys like Justin or Clyde Edwards-Helaire and couldn't see passed the lack of stars next to their names, their undersized physiques, the unknown quantity of their brilliance and became lazy, contented with QB Danny Etling throwing the football ten yards behind the streaking receivers (or to the other team):
If it weren't for receiver (wearer of #7) D.J Chark and running backs Derrius Guice & Nick Brossette, LSU's offense would've struggled to score more than 10 points a game...in what was already a campaign where the offense's archaic leprosy became most pronounced.
But his 2017 freshman campaign wasn't all a waste:
Practicing next to wide receivers D.J Chark and Russell Gage (two current NFL powerhouses & Tiger legends), WRs coach Mickey Joseph oversaw Justin's growth and Strength & Conditioning Coach Tommy Moffitt's intensive regimen (designed to bulk and strengthen JJets's limbs) began to harvest results going into his sophomore campaign.
Justin learned from Chark and Gage specifically, watching how Chark stuck his foot into the ground, then bent and slid his body the complete other direction, sending corners on their ass...it was through this kinship with Chark, Gage, Stephen Sullivan and the rest of the receiving room when Jefferson became a film study fiend.
Chark tweeted (following the title game): "I said 2 years ago when I left he was like that... nobody was tryna hear it... 1 national championship and historic record breaking season later.. it’s not as crazy."
"He was no 2 star...." Gage scoffed in 2019.
Then, 2018 came....and everything accelerated for many student-athletes in Baton Rouge...the stars aligned:
We had the perfect coach, who'd recruited a large array of mega-stars in the class of 2016 and 2017 (Clyde, superstar wideout Ja'Marr Chase, Justin himself, Thaddeus Moss, Ed Ingram, Austin Deculus, Lloyd, Delpit, Chaisson, Queen, Jacob Phillips, Jontre Kirklin and more);
The LSU Standard of Performance....nothing else would be acceptable...
Offensive line coach James Cregg could coach half of the Division I schools out there, same with Mickey Joseph, DBU Master Instructor Corey Raymond passes up opportunities left and right, quarterbacks / passing game analyst Jorge Munoz (in Joe Burrow's ear on the sidelines and up to the booth) took off to Baylor with Dave Aranda and was still so respected we considered him for the current passing game coordinator position.
To hammer all of this home...to reinforce exactly what kinda football juggernaut we had on our hands in Baton Rouge all along....we finally sealed the quarterback to go along with the stunning package when Joe Burrow signed on the same day the Grey Ghost passed away in May 2018.
Jefferson, as a freshman, lost on the sidelines at LSU...destined to be the butt of every "who's that? Oh, Jordan Jefferson's little brother" comment from Kirk Herbstreit for life, grew in stature, size and football IQ, gained eternal friendships as well as on-field chemistry with fellow teammates, especially when Ja'Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall and Joe Burrow arrived.
Now, every position coach on the 2018-2019 LSU Tigers squad (more or less the same core players and staff) became a juggernaut.
2018 was a year of learning, mixed results & epic growth: We witnessed Joe fighting through adversity at quarterback, heroically beating #2 Georgia and taking LSU to a #3 ranking in the nation...before, we collectively failed vs Alabama in a 29-0 humiliation in Death Valley.
We also endured horrific luck in 2018, losing to Texas A&M in 7 OT 74-72 after an atrocity of refereeing decisions kept A&M in the game, our exhausted Tigers giving everything for a victory which was taken from them......but there were fabulous signs of growth all around, especially concerning our offense...notably for Justin out wide:
Justin caught 54 passes for 875 yards and 6 touchdowns, exploding in the last 4 games of the season as we detailed in Pt. I, catching 4 during LSU's final 4. He became Joe's primary target across the middle.
Jefferson's production trended higher and higher, grabbing two 100+ yard games, another pair in the 90s, two multi-TD games, and a trio of 80+ yard receiving days...but he was gaining even more space and precise timing with Joe as the season wound down...yards, touchdowns and yards per catch all increasing rapidly once Ja'Marr Chase's PCL strain became nothing more than a memory (the freshman sensation living up to his own 5-star billing during the final 4 game stretch).
Before, Justin would be double team'd and jammed out of slants, locking Burrow in a pocket he wasn't ready to escape from, or...the offensive line would collapse around him, rendering the play hopeless...
Now, with Ja'Marr Chase stretching the field further and forcing both safeties to commit to the passing game, LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire grew in importance, specifically during the UCF game.
These Tigers never stopped fighting in 2018, issuing a warning when they dropped 40+ points on three of their last four opponents....
Sadly, the 2019 title-winning team would lose a few Grade A 2019 seniors in Devin White and cornerback Greedy Williams to the NFL Draft, but through it all, Orgeron made sure LSU never lost more talent than they brought in:
Recruiting freshman superstar receiver Terrace Marshall and 3 brilliant freshmen running backs....just as tight end / receiver Thaddeus Moss finally recovered from his foot surgeries.
Orgeron also added wide receiving assistant and passing game coordinator Joseph Brady from the New Orleans Saints, stealing him out from under Sean Payton's steely grasp in an effort to ramp up our offense.... by any means necessary.
Now, WRs Coach Mickey Joseph raised his own game, sensing the chess moves in Joe Brady's head (as far as winning games / climbing the coaching ladder).
Mickey, always a badass coach, became even more wicked and wild, coaching em up as if he were the head coach himself, demanding excellence every rep on the practice field, perhaps even moreso than on game day (receivers would do 50 pushups for catching the ball with their body).
He could see the talent before him, he knew what they were all capable of...in fact, this wasn't just a talent pool consisting only of starters Justin Jefferson, Ja'Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall and Thaddeus Moss as a tight end who could line up at receiver...
Because of this NFL-ready, world class group ahead of them, Racey McMath, Jontre Kirklin, freshman Trey Palmer and seniors Stephen Sullivan & Derrick Dillon all raised their own game, pushing themselves to the absolute edge, being rewarded with valuable reps throughout the season, each player scoring a touchdown (some multiple)....our backups would've started for many SEC teams...and many on that list have a chance to be stars in Jefferson's absence in 2020.
Justin, Ja'Marr, Terrace, Thaddeus, and Clyde all had their one and only off-season as a group...instituting Mickey's "Summer of 10,000 Catches" with gusto, throwing the ball over and over in the hazy summer of Baton Rouge...hanging out on campus, then practicing late into the night as they ran the same routes again and again...
This group were all business...and that business became forcing your secondary to try and cover them all of them at once on a football field, you can include Clyde as a receiving threat and Joe Burrow's rushing danger in the equation as well.
How could any one defense contain these weapons all at once?
The answer, which LSU's offensive stalwarts had no problem telling the world through laughter all off-season:
They couldn't...and they wouldn't....because they shouldn't stop us...because they won't...
For Jefferson, the season launched off in a whirlwind storm of success, nabbing his 3rd ever multi-touchdown game and his first 3 touchdown haul in Week 2 vs Texas....
After a mere 2 games into the season, Jefferson already had 5 TDs compared to 2018's 6 total...
Not only was the Texas game the first high-profile unveiling of LSU's new boot-to-the-throat offensive attack, Terrace Marshall, Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase became the first Tigers WR trio to geaux for 100+ yards in the same game (433 yards, 23 catches and 4 TDs combined...in only their 2nd game together...did you get that? Can you contend with that SEC? No...wow...)....led of course by Justin's 3 touchdowns, 163 yards, 18.1 yards per catch, and 3rd and 17 magic.
The deciding 3rd and 17 play came long after LSU had warned the CFB world of their near dominance, however with the game still in the balance, Joe knew who he had to throw to....we had to finish this off NOW...
Justin Jefferson's catch in traffic just over the 3rd down marker and his rampaging run down the sidelines, making Longhorns' defenders miss left and right, diving after Jefferson's heels and shoelaces in their vain agony...only catching vapor trails and McConaughey F-Bomb histrionics...
This wasn't just a play of divine magic after an entire program's existence-worth of offensive disinterest and disarray: for decades, offensive teams became offensive around some factions of Tigers fans:
The very thought of a prime time receiving corps catching the ball in nonstop craziness was sickening to the running backs-obsessed culture around Baton Rouge...but here they were...they'd arrived.
Due to the incomprehensible relaxing of Texas's successful early front pressure (against a banged up, piecemeal LSU O-line), the Athens Ohio kid repeatedly hit Justin for big plays, back-shoulder touchdown catches, 6 first downs (a pair of 3rd down conversions, inc. the 3rd and 17) and 5 gains of 15+ yards or more.
3 of those 15+ yard receptions came on the same drive midway through the 2nd quarter...one which altered the course of Tigers history:
Jefferson looked routine catching the ball across the middle, with ample yards after catch during an important drive which finally let LSU take a 10-7 lead.
But the way we finished the 2nd quarter, featuring Justin Jefferson as the receiving focus, would become the blueprint for the rest of the year:
Down 7-3 in the 2nd, the Tigers stole the game out from under Texas through passes to Jefferson and Chase across the middle and the sidelines, coupled with simple dump-offs in the flat for Edwards-Helaire, jumping out to a 20-7 lead after a Cold War-ending back-shoulder catch in mid-air (on the turn) by Justin....a ridiculously filthy moment which stamped our intent just as hard as 3rd and 17.
After the Herbstreit/McConaughey torching, Joe Burrow tossed for 1,864 yards after only 5 games, Jefferson catching 547 yards, 30 passes and 7 touchdowns before the Florida game...this was after Justin had to leave the Vanderbilt game early (after a 3rd and goal touchdown catch).
By the time of Florida, LSU's offense were facing our first dance against a #1 defense...but after 4 quarters, our offense had scored 42 points from 48 plays, Jefferson geauxing off for 10 catches, 123 yards & a brilliant TD just as Ja'Marr went for 140+ as well...the receiving corps continued to be a disgustingly efficient calculus which begs the question:
JUSTIN, JA'MARR, JOE...THEY CAN'T BE THAAAAT GOOD, RIGHT?
Wrong, especially when utilizing each other as weapons to compete against, learning to grow as receivers together, challenging one another, before finally, backing each other up on the field inside an unstoppable framework...catch after catch...yard after yard these two racked up, Jefferson clocking in at 13.9 yards per catch on the season, 9 games with at least one or more receptions of 35+ yards, and openly destroying teams by the end of the season....
He caught all 7 targets from Joe vs Alabama, efficiently chipping away at the strength and conditioning of Bama's DBs' (Xavier McKinney, see ya), working them into a quick, punishing their "1st Round NFL Draft" DBs during and after every hit they issued upon us...the defenders felt our receivers' strength.