Justin Jefferson Thriving In New-Look LSU Passing Game

Photo: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Who is this team in purple and yellow playing offense as the LSU Tigers in 2019 and what have they done with what we’ve come to expect coming out of Baton Rouge? The darlings of college football so far this season, LSU overhauled its offensive scheme and is playing a modern brand of football that has some believing the Tigers could now be the favorites to win the SEC.

How much has the offense improved? Compared to 2018, LSU is averaging 22.2 more points per game and an additional 188 passing yards. The points increase is roughly what SEC rivals Tennessee (23.6), Kentucky (23.4) and Vanderbilt (19.6) average in total per game, while the increase in passing yards is on pace with Mississippi State’s average of 191.8 yards through the air each week. 

LSU’s 54.6 points per game and 416 passing yards per game tops the SEC in both categories. The Tigers lead the nation in scoring offense and are second behind Washington State in passing yards per game. LSU’s national rank in passing yards per game over the last five years: 116th in 2014, 106th in 2015, 101st in 2016, 84th in 2017 and 67th in 2018.

Joe Brady has been a godsend to the LSU program. Hired as the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach in the offseason, Brady came to LSU after two seasons with Sean Payton in New Orleans as an offensive assistant. He was a graduate assistant at Penn State from 2015-2016 and prior to that was the linebackers coach at William & Mary from 2013-2014 where he played wide receiver from 2001-2012.

Offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger has wisely allowed Brady to influence LSU’s scheme and it certainly feels like Brady is among the brightest offensive innovators in football. It won’t be long until he’s a coordinator and head coach if his ascension and impact continues like it already has with the Tigers. 

Brady has reinvigorated the Tigers’ offense and ignited the draft stock of several NFL LSU offensive prospects. While quarterback Joe Burrow is lighting up the scoreboard and his stock is sizzling, the primary receiving target has been junior wide receiver Justin Jefferson

A season after leading the Tigers with 54 receptions for 875 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games, Jefferson has 30 receptions for 547 yards and seven touchdowns in five games in 2019. Jefferson is currently on pace to break LSU’s single-season record for receiving touchdowns while finishing among the top-three single-season outputs for receiving yards and receptions. 

The Jefferson name is a familiar one at LSU. Justin’s two older brothers - Jordan and Rickey - were both starters for the program. Jordan was a three-year starter at quarterback, while Rickey was a starting defensive back as both a junior and senior. Jordan quarterbacked the Tigers to a 13-0 regular season and appearance in the BCS National Championship Game in 2011. Justin’s father, John, played two seasons of college basketball at Nebraska Western before closing out his career at Northeast Louisiana. 

Despite the athletic pedigree, Jefferson wasn’t a highly-regarded recruit out of high school. Jefferson came to LSU as a three-star recruit and was ranked the No. 308 wide receiver in the 2017 class according to 247 Sports. The only other scholarship offers Jefferson had were from Northwestern, Tulane and Nicholas State. 

Studying Jefferson on tape reveals an impressive skill set that is being maximized by Brady’s passing scheme. I love how the system is predicated on concepts instead of routes with sight adjustments to adjust to coverage and finding open space in the defense. LSU spreads the field and challenges defenses with routes at every level. That offensive philosophy reveals so much about the football intelligence not only of QB Joe Burrow, but the receiving corps and Jefferson. Jefferson has feasted taking advantage of opportunities to attack space, reading the leverage of the defense and providing an open target for Burrow. 

While Jefferson has the physical gifts to get open and separate on his own, the scheme accentuates that ability which is a big reason why Jefferson has been so productive. With no problems creating throwing windows for Burrow, Jefferson is showcasing exceptional traits at the catch point. Whether it’s making a terrific adjustment to make a play on the ball or proving his ability to naturally pluck the football in stride and immediately create after the catch, Jefferson has been a dynamic target for LSU. 

It’s clear that Burrow and Jefferson have developed trust and chemistry. There are numerous examples on tape of Burrow executing a spot throw and Jefferson’s ball skills taking over to come away with clutch receptions. Jefferson has outstanding concentration and body control while showing off his ability to extend his catch radius vertically by winning in the air. 

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 192 pounds, Jefferson is a versatile weapon. Capable of winning inside from the slot or out wide, he’s proving to be a threat at every level of the field. His vertical cuts are smooth and he knows how to use his length as a weapon at the catch point. He’s quick to compete for additional yards post-catch, accelerates fluidly and is an overall smooth operator. 

The rising wide receiver class is absolutely loaded with talent and Jefferson is playing himself into consideration as one of the best in the class. I’m anxious to see how the offense progresses throughout the thick of conference play and Jefferson’s pace along the way. He’s a gifted talent and that is fully on display in this new-look LSU offense. 

Written By:

Joe Marino

Director of Administration

Director of Administration & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Draft Dudes podcast. Member of the FWAA.

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