The New York Jets must surround quarterback Sam Darnold with talent. The No. 3 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, the USC product has shown franchise passer qualities. However, too often, those qualities are downplayed in large part due to an offense that lacks a competent offensive line and a No. 1 option from a pass-catcher standpoint.
In the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Jets must address their offensive line. Nobody wants a broken quarterback. The second round may be different, however. In a stacked wide receiver class, they may be able to find Darnold’s go-to target after the first 32 picks.
A name that stands out, in particular, is LSU’s Justin Jefferson.
Jefferson, a Biletnikoff semifinalist (best wide receiver in the country), has acted as one of Joe Burrow’s main targets in a spicy LSU offense. Essentially an over-sized slot receiver (6-2, 185-pounds), he has hauled in 81 receptions for 1,092 yards and 13 touchdowns on the year, pre-SEC Championship game.
Though dubbed as an “over-sized slot receiver,” Jefferson would not take Jamison Crowder’s spot in the Jets’ offense as a slot receiver. At LSU, he has shown the ability to play seemingly any position pre-snap, receiving looks at X, Z or Y throughout his Tigers career.
Jefferson is versatile. Why? He can catch seemingly anything thrown his way. He’s a contested catch menace, can climb the ladder and should, ultimately, thrive in the red zone at the next level, as he has done against SEC competition. He’s a smooth runner, particularly on vertical stems, and shows a knack for navigating through zone coverage chunk plays. Jefferson is a tough catcher, and though his release isn’t outstanding, it’s enough to will his way into being an open target.
Jefferson does his best work as a deep and intermediate route runner. His short-area game must be improved. He’s not particularly fast, but he can get up to his top speed in a jiffy. If he can smooth up his release, add to his route tree and find a way to create more separation without speed, he will be somebody that will force defenses to play bracket coverage.
Currently, Jefferson projects as a similar talent to that of Pittsburgh Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster and Tennessee Titans’ A.J. Brown. He isn’t a surreal athlete, but he won’t disappoint at the NFL Combine, either. Barring a massive upset in the draft, the Jets should find him in the second round or even the third. If he develops appropriately, they may find a real “X” in the LSU product.