The Philadelphia Eagles selected JaCoby Stevens with pick No. 224 in the 2021 NFL Draft. In order to learn more about the LSU defender, I reached out to SB Nation’s college blog that offers LSU coverage: And The Valley Shook. The zealous Zachary Junda was kind enough to answer my questions.
1) Can you recap his college career?
I don’t want to say tumultuous because the word has such a negative connotation, but JaCoby’s LSU career certainly had some up-and-down moments.
I suppose it starts all the way back to his recruitment, Stevens initially committed to LSU as an undergrad but backed off when doubts about Les Miles’s future arose. While Miles was eventually fired prior to Stevens signing his Letter of Intent, Ed Orgeron and his staff were able to keep Stevens in the Tigers 2017 signing class. Stevens played both ways in high school and coming into college could’ve gone a number of different ways. His first start as a Tiger was actually at receiver, where Stevens initially wanted to play, before ultimately settling in the secondary. From then he would go on to play in 42 games with 30 starts at safety including all 15 in LSU’s 2019 championship run.
Stevens would wear the coveted No. 7 jersey as a senior, which has been a newer tradition at LSU. That number is worn by the playmaker and guys like Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Leonard Fournette, DJ Chark, and Grant Delpit all wore it. Now technically Ja’Marr Chase was going to wear that number last year but he opted out prior to the season started and Stevens donned it in his place. JaCoby may have been the second choice to wear that sacred number but he performed admirably, leading LSU in tackles with 63 plus six tackles for loss, three sacks, and recovered three fumbles including a game-sealing one in the season finale against Ole Miss.
2) What are his strengths?
As football starts to morph into a positionless game, Stevens has the athleticism that will fit with any professional franchise. He’s quick enough to cover running backs coming out of the flat or slot receivers and he’s big enough to engage with tight ends. He has more to work within his toolbox than most sixth-round picks and that versatility will help him earn a roster spot.
3) What are his weaknesses?
At the collegiate level, Stevens was always the “good at everything but maybe not great at one thing type” of player. He couldn’t play centerfield like Eric Reid nor had a knack for forcing turnovers like Tyrann Mathieu. In LSU’s complete domination of Oklahoma in the 2019 Chick Fil A Peach Bowl, Stevens was responsible for a 51-yard reception to CeeDee Lamb; against Clemson in the 2020 national championship game, he was slow reacting to a read-option play by Trevor Lawrence and allowed the game’s opening touchdown. That’s two instances where Stevens was on the losing end of a matchup against future pros (first-round picks at that) and I fear that he may keep being victimized.
4) Are you surprised where he was drafted? Higher or lower than expected? Just right?
I was very surprised JaCoby went in the sixth round, largely because this time last year some thought he could be a first-round pick. I would have thought between his impeccable character, his variety of skills, and a strong showing at LSU’s pro day he would have been a late day two pick or at the very worst be one of the first ones off the board on day three. But as the 2020 season progressed and LSU fielded the worst defense in its 127 years of existence, Stevens stock tanked. If I had to guess, I would assume scouts and general managers asked themselves, do we really want to invest an early pick on a safety/linebacker hybrid that can’t adequately defend the pass in a pass-happy league? That wound up not being the case.
5) How do you see his NFL career playing out?
I think JaCoby Stevens will be the kind of guy who has an eight to 10-year long career and whatever team he is on will be all the better for it. Linebacker is exactly where he should be playing because he’s fantastic playing close to the line of scrimmage. Those aren’t just my thoughts, former Tiger DB and current NFL analyst Ryan Clark said Stevens should have asked the LSU coaching staff to play him at linebacker last season. If he does toe the line between safety and linebacker then best case scenario Stevens can be a poor man’s Jamal Adams. Or put another way, he could be a less punchable Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
6) Anything to know about him off the field?
I’ll make a prediction: Stevens will eventually be Philadelphia’s Walter Peyton Man of the Year nomination. He may even win it one of these years. JaCoby is one of the best ambassadors for LSU to come through in quite some time. He would speak at schools in the Baton Rouge area, partake in hurricane relief; last summer was at the forefront of LSU’s social justice movement and started an initiative that got all of his LSU teammates registered to vote. He was LSU’s choice for the SEC Community Service Team and was on the Wuerffel Trophy watchlist, which is essentially the Heisman of community service.
BLG’s take: The Eagles are indeed interested in Stevens playing at linebacker. They have him listed at that position on their official roster page. Stevens also told reporters he’s mostly been in touch with linebackers coach Nick Rallis. Stevens is very much the lightest linebacker on the roster listed at just 212 pounds. The next closest is Rashad Smith, likely a camp body, at 220. Then there’s Davion Taylor and Eric Wilson at 230. Thus, the Eagles might want Stevens to add some weight. It could take some time for Stevens to do that and develop into a player who sees defensive snaps, perhaps in a specialized role. In the meantime, Stevens can make his mark by making an impact on the special teams unit.