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NFL Mock Draft 2020: Making the case for Justin Jefferson as the Eagles’ pick

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Aren’t you shocked?!

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - LSU v Oklahoma Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Hey, you know what we haven’t had enough of at Bleeding Green Nation this offseason? That’s right: blog posts about Justin Jefferson. So, here’s another one!

Jokes aside, this Jefferson article is specifically prompted by my pick in the annual SB Nation NFL writers mock draft. Before we dive deeper into this year’s selection, here’s a recap of my history with this exercise.

2014 — Kyle Fuller at No. 22, Davante Adams at No. 54
2015 — Jake Fisher at No. 20, Byron Jones at No. 52
2016 — Ezekiel Elliott at No. 8
2017 — Reuben Foster at No. 14
2018 — Connor Williams at No. 32
2019 — Christian Wilkins at No. 25

More good than bad overall, right? Not that it really matters. But maybe I can convince you I’m not totally clueless? Or at least a little lucky.

Anyway, now for my short explanation of this year’s choice:

The Eagles did … literally nothing … to address their dire wide receiver situation through free agency, so the team MUST address the position early in the draft.

Justin Jefferson isn’t the most ideal fit in that he isn’t the explosive burner that Philly could really afford to add. But the Eagles don’t *just* need to add speed; they need good receivers, period, and there’s a lot to like about Jefferson’s profile.

He only turned 21 in January, he boasts an elite relative athletic score, he produced at a high level for a national champion in 2019, he has experience playing both the slot and outside, and he has a revered work ethic. Jefferson checks a lot of boxes and that’s important for an Eagles team that’s regularly failed to draft and develop receiver talent since Howie Roseman first came to power in 2010.

There are rarely sure things in the draft, but Jefferson feels like an especially reasonable bet. He could be a reliable weapon for Wentz for years to come.

Further explanation given in the most recent BGN Radio episode (click here to listen) featuring myself, Jimmy Kempski, and Michael Kist:

And here’s what SB Nation NFL Draft writer Dan Kadar had to say about my pick:

Purely from a value standpoint, this pick is a home run. I think Jefferson is the fourth-best wide receiver in the draft, and the 14th-best player overall. It obviously fill a big need too. This pick really satisfies all the requirements for the Eagles, in my opinion.

Jefferson has been a little miscast in the lead up to the draft. He played in the slot a lot at LSU, but that was more to do with the receiving talent in Baton Rouge. But just about every write-up on Jefferson is about how great of a weapon he can be in the slot. While it’s true he could be very good there, he fits fine in the NFL as an outside receiver.

Also consider that Wentz’s leading receiver every year of his career has been tight end Zach Ertz. He’s good, certainly, but Wentz has needed a receiver like Jefferson.

I know many are on board with Jefferson at No. 21 while others are pretty opposed to the idea. Let’s see if I can’t change your mind about this divisive Eagles target.

The appeal

I already touched on some of this above but there are just a number of things to like about Jefferson’s profile.

  • He’s especially young given that he only turned 21 in January.
  • He produced at an elite level for a national champion last season with 111 receptions for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns.
  • He’s got that dog in him. He’s been lauded for both his physical and mental toughness.
  • He just does the little things right. Matt Waldman did a good job of looking at Jefferson’s intangibles.
  • He posted an elite relative athletic score:

There are rarely true “safe” picks in the NFL Draft; major busts can happen when you least expect it. But it’s easy to feel good about Jefferson’s floor at the professional level. And that’s important for an Eagles team that desperately needs to upgrade their wide receiver situation. The Birds aren’t in the ideal spot to swing for the fences in terms of upside. They can’t afford another total miss at receiver. After neglecting to address the position in free agency, it’s clear they’re counting on getting an immediate contributor (or two) via the draft. Jefferson fits the bill.

The fit

One of the biggest critiques when it comes to Jefferson is that he’s not worth taking at No. 21 because he’s merely a slot receiver.

The first problem with that sentiment is that there’s a decent chance Jefferson won’t even be on the board at the Eagles’ pick, so I think people are mistaken about his draft value.

The next issue is that Jefferson isn’t just a slot receiver. BGN Radio’s own Mark Schofield wrote a piece for TouchdownWire showing Jefferson’s ability to have success on the outside. It should also be noted that any inconsistencies Jefferson displayed playing out wide came when he was a 19-year-old true sophomore facing SEC defenses in 2018. I fail to see how that’s so disqualifying.

I think the idea of “fit” has mistakenly become too big of a hangup for those who argue against the Eagles picking Jefferson.

Sure, Jefferson isn’t the burner the Eagles could ideally afford to add at No. 21. But for as much as the Eagles DO legitimately need more team speed, it is not the only thing they need. They also need some receivers who are just actually good players. Would adding Michael Thomas or Keenan Allen — who aren’t true deep threats — to the Eagles’ offense not make it better? That’s obviously not to say Jefferson is guaranteed to be as successful as either of those two ... but he has drawn comparisons to those type of players.

One of the biggest issues from the 2019 season was that Wentz didn’t have any receivers whom he could regularly rely on. Acquiring Jefferson would give Wentz a good, reliable target for years to come.

The 12 personnel factor

Some have argued it doesn’t make sense for the Eagles to add Jefferson because slot receiver is less important in an offense that relies on so much 12 personnel with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. While I get that line of thinking, I don’t think it’s safe to assume such heavy two tight end usage is here to stay.

The Eagles were actually the NFL’s worst team out of 12 personnel as of early December last year. I think the Eagles would ideally like to get back to using 11 personnel more often ... as they did earlier in Doug Pederson’s head coaching career. Philly used three wide receiver sets at the seventh highest frequency back during the Eagles’ Super Bowl season in 2017.

One must consider that at least one of Zach Ertz or Dallas Goedert might not be around for much longer. Ertz and the Eagles failed to agree to terms on an extension during the 2019 season. And if the Eagles do eventually sign Ertz to a multi-year deal, how is Goedert really going to feel about that? The Eagles’ 2018 second-round pick seems like a guy itching for a bigger role considering he said he viewed himself as the NFL’s fourth best tight end last summer. Is he really going to want to re-sign in Philly if Ertz is blocking his path to more playing time and targets?

Jefferson’s skill set might be somewhat redundant with what Ertz and Goedert provide in the short-term. But that shouldn’t be a huge deterrent because the Eagles should still be able to find him plenty of looks. Nelson Agholor saw 166 total targets in 27 games while playing in the slot for the Eagles over the past two seasons. Also, teams must approach the draft with a long-term vision. And Jefferson could be around when either Ertz or Goedert are no longer around.

Experts weigh in

Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah has Jefferson as his No. 14 overall prospect.

Jefferson is a tall, slender wideout with off-the-charts production. He lines up in the slot and out wide. He is an outstanding route runner. He does a nice job getting on the toes of cornerbacks and then creating separation out of the break point. He does a lot of work in traffic and will extend and finish before taking hard contact. He can play above the rim down the field and can contort his body to make special catches. He doesn’t have elite speed, but he’s plenty fast enough. After the catch, he has some wiggle and will fight for extra yards. Overall, Jefferson is a polished receiver and should make an immediate impact at the next level.

Draft guru and Eagles employee Fran Duffy thinks very highly of Jefferson’s game:

The Draft Network’s Jordan Reid put together a good clip of Jefferson’s ability:

Why not one of the other wide receivers?

There’s an argument that the Eagles would be better off using No. 21 on a receiver who profiles as more of a vertical threat. In a vacuum, I don’t disagree. But when you add the context of which players might be available to the Eagles, I’m not so sure the value is right. There are reasons to be wary about the likes of Denzel Mims, Brandon Aiyuk, Jalen Reagor, Tee Higgins, and KJ Hamler.

First of all, the recent history of first round senior wideouts isn’t very encouraging.

I can’t help but feel a little skeptical about how Mims’ rapid ascension throughout the pre-draft process. Is the hype truly warranted? It sure wasn’t when Cody Latimer rose through the ranks back in 2014. That’s not to say Mims is definitely destined for the same fate; I’m just generally wary of the pre-draft riser. NFL executives polled by The Athletic put Mims as the ninth best receiver in this year’s class.

It’s hard for some to get over Aiyuk being a PAC-12 wide receiver after watching JJ Arcega-Whiteside struggle to adjust to the NFL last year. That Aiyuk only ran a 4.5 40-yard dash and is coming off core muscle surgery also isn’t ideal.

Reagor’s speed is intriguing, especially if he’s truly more of the 4.2 guy he was at his virtual pro day than he was the 4.47 guy at the NFL Combine. I realize TCU had bad quarterback play but I still think some of Reagor’s shortcomings are being too easily forgiven. The drops are pretty concerning and they could very well carry over to the NFL. Jeremiah doesn’t even have Reagor in his top 50 prospects.

Higgins’ college stats indicate he’s a big play threat but I wonder how his jump ball ability will translate to the NFL. I don’t like how he rested at the NFL Combine after talking a big game about his speed. Higgins only ran a 4.54 40-yard dash; his athletic profile is poor.

Hamler is only 5-9, 178 and has drop issues. I can’t see him going in the first round.

Why not a defender?

What has the Eagles’ player personnel department done this offseason to help out Carson Wentz? Answer: nothing!

The Eagles spent all their free agency resources — aside from re-signing Nate Sudfeld to a one-year, $2 million contract — on their defense. They’re really going to do that AND spend their first-round pick on a defender, too? Not a fan of that approach. Merely waiting until No. 53 to take a receiver doesn’t seem like a viable strategy given that teams will be motivated to trade up ahead of the Eagles’ predictable pick.

Final word

I just think there’s a high chance Jefferson is going to pan out in the NFL. He could be a really good and important contributor from the jump.

Think back to how Agholor playing well made a big difference for the Eagles’ offense in 2017. Also think back to Agholor’s big mistakes from 2019 and how things could’ve been different if a better player like Jefferson was in those positions instead. A number of those plays swinging the other way would’ve turned losses into wins.

While drafting Jefferson doesn’t necessarily satiate the Eagles’ need for a burner, they could still add one of those types on Day 2. One of the aforementioned receivers I passed on at No. 21 might make it to No. 53 ... or be targeted in a second round trade up.

Again, I don’t think it’s a lock that Jefferson will even be available at No. 21. But if he is, there’s a pretty good chance the Eagles will select him.

Poll

Grade my pick of the Eagles drafting Justin Jefferson at No. 21 overall

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    A
    (757 votes)
  • 46%
    B
    (1088 votes)
  • 14%
    C
    (329 votes)
  • 3%
    D
    (71 votes)
  • 3%
    F
    (90 votes)
2335 votes total Vote Now