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LSU’s Justin Jefferson ready to cash in on his NFL opportunity

LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson scores a touchdown against the Oklahoma Sooners in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 28.
(Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

The Times examines the top prospects ahead of the NFL draft, to be held April 23-25.

It may be time to recast that fistful of cash that Odell Beckham Jr. gave Justin Jefferson on the Mercedes-Benz Superdome field in January, creating quite the brouhaha after their beloved Louisiana State Tigers won the national championship.

Consider it just a symbolic down payment on the NFL riches that await.

Jefferson is zooming up mock draft boards months after his showing at the NFL combine in February, with ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. slotting him as a mid-first-round pick in his latest projection.

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“He surprised scouts with a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine, and I called him a riser,” Kiper wrote of the 6-foot-1, 202-pound prospect. “Well, he’s still rising.”

It’s a storybook ascent for a onetime lightly recruited, skinny high school kid with bad grades who weighed 155 pounds as a junior and ran with an awkward gait. LSU coach Ed Orgeron held a scholarship for Jefferson that he was able to accept after completing a summer school class to meet eligibility standards.

Ready for a different kind of NFL mock draft? Football experts join Times NFL writer Sam Farmer to predict the first round of the 2020 draft.

There was a destiny component considering Jefferson is the younger brother of former Tigers quarterback Jordan Jefferson and safety Rickey Jefferson. But the youngest sibling appeared overmatched his first college season, failing to catch a pass while toiling as a run blocker who wore No. 32, a number more suited to fullbacks.

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The arrival of quarterback Joe Burrow before the 2018 season transformed the fate of the Tigers and their receiving corps. Jefferson led the team with 54 catches in a prelude to a record-shattering 2019 in which he caught 111 passes for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns, including 106 yards against Clemson in the championship game.

“Having Joe Burrow throwing it to us, throwing it on the money every single throw,” Jefferson said of the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at the combine, “it was just a blessing to be in that offense.”

The Times examines the top prospects ahead of the 2020 NFL draft, to be held April 23-25.

Jefferson’s showing in the College Football Playoff, which also included a mind-numbing performance against Oklahoma in the semifinal game when he made 14 catches for 227 yards and four touchdowns, was a powerful rebuttal to those who had overlooked him during awards season. LSU teammate J’Marr Chase, who caught 84 passes, was chosen as the Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s top receiver and Jefferson was not even selected as a first-team All-American at his position.

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He was still considered a money player by Beckham, the LSU alumnus turned Pro Bowl receiver who celebrated the Tigers’ national title by handing over cash that Jefferson eventually gave to his church to avoid compliance issues.

“He shouldn’t have done it, but it was really just the heat of the moment,” Jefferson said. “He’s always doing stuff for us, giving us gifts, giving us new shoes, giving us Beats. He definitely gives us a lot that he has.”

On the brink of his own fortune, Jefferson could soon become the latest former Tiger in a giving mood.


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