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Lunchbreak: The Athletic Dives Deep on Justin Jefferson's Hidden Success Factors

Jack Marucci hasn't been at all surprised by Justin Jefferson's phenomenal start in the NFL.

As LSU's Director of Performance Innovation, Marucci has "long been curious about quantifying what we cannot see," wrote The Athletic’s Alec Lewis.

Lewis spoke with Marucci recently about Jefferson's intangible traits – going behind the 40-yard dash and other measurables at the NFL Scouting Combine – that translated to NFL superstar.

Before spending time around LSU's national championship-winning teams in 2003 and 2007, Marucci attended West Virginia, completed a graduate stint at Alabama, then found himself at Florida State in the 1990s, where he worked with players like Deion Sanders, Charlie Ward and Warrick Dunn.

He was particularly interested in two kinds of players: can't-miss prospects who were athletic but failed to perform on the field and under-the-radar talents who didn't have elite size, strength or speed but still managed to excel.

By the 2010s, Marucci wanted to delve deeper, to see if he could transform some of the subjective beliefs about players' character traits and cognitive abilities into objective insight.

View the best photos of Vikings WR Justin Jefferson during the 2022 season.

Lewis introduced readers to Brandon Ally and Scott Wylie, former college athletes who had worked with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients and were "studying how humans perceive and process information."

When they watched the 2014 NFL Draft, they wondered if they could tweak the existing tests that helped them understand these degenerative diseases and apply that knowledge to sports. What if they could quantify a player's ability to process information on the field?

Instead of the commonly known Wonderlic test, Ally and Wylie "sought something different – a quick test that did not allow for reasoning and forced the athlete to make instinctual decisions without thinking."

According to Lewis, Ally and Wylie started a company called S2 Cognition and "contracted teams – like LSU – to vet their product."

As Marucci began to see the scores, he was taken aback. Good cornerbacks and receivers performed better than most. The more he thought about why — they have to quickly make decisions and improvise when things don't go as planned — the more he understood about players who had long piqued his interest.


By the time Jefferson arrived on campus, Marucci was sold on S2's value. Each Tigers player took the 30- to 45-minute test, and Jefferson, a skinny two-star recruit from just outside New Orleans who arrived late to camp, scored in the 91stpercentile in a database normed to NFL players. Furthermore, he tested well in three categories integral for many successful receivers: search efficiency, decision complexity and improvisation.

"It was like, 'Holy s—, he is off the charts,'" Ally told Lewis. "He can see the field really well. He can find space. He can filter through if/then rules very quickly. And then he can improvise, not only finding alternatives but also making in-flight adjustments. When he leaves the ground, he can adjust his body to a poorly thrown ball."

Click here to read the entirety of Lewis' deep dive.

Shipley spotlights Dennis Ryan's commitment; players react to news

After nearly five decades, longtime Vikings Equipment Manager Dennis Ryan has retired.

It's uncharted territory for Ryan, who has been one of the organization's hardest-working employees since starting part-time as a teenager.

John Shipley of the Pioneer Press joined a few local beat reporters in talking to Ryan earlier this week. He wrote:

In his 47 years, Ryan missed only two Vikings games. One was a road game in Atlanta after his mother, Rita, passed away. The other was a home game against the Packers during the COVID season of 2021.


Now that retirement has come, Ryan wonders exactly how he'll spend his time. After starting workdays at 5 a.m. for nearly 50 years, he is resigned to being an early-riser for life. Ryan has always worked and always liked it, which made the equipment manager job ideal.

"I don't like to sit and putz," Ryan told reporters, "so I've always been happy. Never really had to think about, 'What am I going to do today?' There's always work. You can always find something to do, so it's always been easy to do that."

Current and former players reacted to the news on social media.