While not much these days seem to be the same as it was even a few weeks ago, among things still just about certain to hold true: Justin Jefferson is about to realize a dream, one that seemed rather distant not too long ago.
Jefferson is projected by several draft analysts to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. ESPN recently had him pegged to go 21st overall, which would make the
LSU wide receiver and former Destrehan High star St. Charles Parish’s highest drafted player since Hahnville High alum LaRon Landry, who went sixth overall in 2007.
Jefferson reeled in 111 receptions for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns in his final season at LSU, highlighted by a record shattering 14 catch, 227 yard, four touchdown performance in LSU’s national semifinal victory over Oklahoma.
Longtime NFL Draft analyst and publisher of the annual Mike Detillier’s NFL Draft Report, Mike Detillier has watched Jefferson since his days at Destrehan. He said he expects Jefferson to be selected as the fourth wide receiver off the board later this month and within the top 22 selections of the first round.
“I think it’ll be (Jerry) Jeudy of Alabama, Ceedee Lamb of Oklahoma, Henry Ruggs of Alabama and then Jefferson,” Detillier said. “(Jefferson) started out like his brother (Jordan) at Destrehan, at quarterback, then they swung him over to wide receiver. He’s a mentally tough guy, a great competitor.”
Detillier said Jefferson has proven a winner, and that he can be counted on to deliver in pivotal moments.
“In critical situations, Joe Burrow looked his way. Joe trusted he’d run the right route and he’d be open,” Detillier said. “Late in the game against Texas, third and long, Burrow had a lot of pressure on him. Justin wasn’t the primary receiver on that play, but he races across the field, makes the catch then outraces the defensive back to the endzone.
“He was Joe Burrow’s security blanket. When he got in trouble, it was Justin. I think Joe was very comfortable that he’d find way to get open.”
Jefferson especially created headaches for opposing defenses as an inside receiver.
“I think he’s underrated for two things … first, his ability to set you up and get separation downfield. Secondly, run after the catch. He has a knack for it,” Detillier said. “I thought last year he was the best slot receiver in college football, and I don’t think it’s much of a debate.
“He’s a mentally tough guy, a great competitor. He catches the ball so smoothly, out with his hands and not against his body … and he plays with so much confidence.”
While his ascent was rapid – Jefferson was a relatively unheralded, two-star recruit upon his arrival at LSU – Detillier said Tigers coach Ed Orgeron wasn’t surprised.
“They held a scholarship for him while he got his academic situation squared away. Ed thought off the bat, ‘this guy could have an impact.’. He’s got some genetics there, with his brothers Jordan and Rickey playing at LSU before him. (Orgeron) talked about that when they signed Justin … he saw all the intangibles with him, as a leader, a tough guy, as the guy to throw that block downfield, who can make a play … he saw it early,” Detillier said. “They used him all across the board at Destrehan. He’s a really good route runner.”
Destrehan’s last NFL first round selection went on to do some things as a professional: Ed Reed, drafted 24th in 2002, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last summer.
Detillier said it’s a credit to Jefferson’s will and work ethic, in addition to his talent, that he could be the Wildcats’ next in line to go in the first.
“That’s the biggest thing about Justin that stands out,” Detillier said. “He loves the game. He works at it and he understands it’ll be a challenge. But he’s run all of the routes in the route tree that he’ll run in the NFL.
“Nobody would have predicted Justin to go in the first when the reason started. But Justin went to work. You look at all the talent that’s come from Destrehan, Hahnville, St. Charles Catholic, East St. John … all within a stone’s throw from each other, and to see a two-star recruit become the guy … You’d love to always have the 5 star recruits, but you can’t judge a player’s heart and his head with a star rating.”