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Justin Jefferson Feels Pro-Ready After Thriving in Slot with LSU in 2019

EAGAN, Minn. — Justin Jefferson mostly played on the outside as a wide receiver for LSU in 2017 and 2018.

But in the months before the 2019 season, Tigers passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach Joe Brady and Jefferson talked about the possibility of moving the 6-foot-1, 202-pound wide receiver to more of an inside role.

It's safe to say that move paid off, as Jefferson compiled one of the best receiving seasons in LSU history in 2019 as a junior. He tied for the national lead and set a school single-season record with 111 catches and finished second in the country overall with 18 touchdown receptions, which trailed only Tigers teammate Ja'Marr Chase's 20.

He was third in FBS with 1,540 receiving yards and helped the Tigers win the College Football Playoff National Championship.

View photos of LSU WR Justin Jefferson who was selected by the Vikings in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Now, after getting selected by Minnesota with the 22nd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Jefferson feels at ease with his upcoming transition to the pros.

"Right when Joe Brady came, he definitely watched film from 2018 and saw that I was on the outside, and that I was a playmaker with the ball," Jefferson said of Brady, who was recently hired as the Panthers offensive coordinator. "Him coming up to me and giving me that job, he felt that it was a tough job and that not a lot of people could switch from outside to inside.

"He felt that the inside was going to be perfect for me and that I was going to fit perfectly with the offense," Jefferson added Friday during a video chat with the Twin Cities media. "Just transferring inside definitely helped me and helped me boost my draft grade."

Jefferson, who was ranked as the 14th-best player in the draft by draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, said he blossomed on the field both physically and mentally in 2019.

While he used his sturdy frame to haul in contested catches, Jefferson said he also picked up on how to recognize and read what the opponent had planned, too.

"It also helped me become a smarter player, having to learn the different defenses, and during routes … having to know what coverages the defenses were in," Jefferson said of his move to the slot. "Running those different routes in different coverages, I learned more about football and different intricacies they run, and how to run different routes off those coverages.

"It definitely helped me become a smarter and better player," Jefferson added.

Jefferson could be a factor in the same position with the Vikings, where he will team with former All-Pro wide receiver Adam Thielen and Pro Bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins to help lead Minnesota's passing attack.

Jefferson noted those Vikings veterans reached out to him shortly after he was drafted at No. 22. Jefferson added that he's excited to catch passes from Cousins, whom he touted for his accuracy and deep-passing ability.

"Kirk definitely reached out to me, and then Adam," Jefferson said. "Having those two guys [do that] is encouraging and kind of builds my confidence to come into the season with those two guys being very supportive."

"His accuracy, and him just really not being conservative, trusting his receivers to go get the ball," Jefferson added. "Watching Adam and Stefon [Diggs] go get those passes, being that big-time receiver for the Vikings definitely had my eyes big and watching those guys during film definitely had us going and excited and everything. Me playing for the Vikings now, and watching them during the season last year, it's kind of funny that I'm at this big stage right now. It's definitely a dream come true."

Jefferson's college career is officially in the rearview mirror, as he will now look forward to a new start with the Vikings.

In a normal year, he and classmates would be preparing to come to the Twin Cities for a minicamp next weekend, but that will instead be conducted virtually from remote locations because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to the distance learning from his new team, Jefferson will surely use the lessons from his time at LSU to help him make that transition, especially with how he thrived from the slot in LSU's perfect season in 2019.

"Just pretty much being the only team to have that pro-style offense, pretty much a majority of the plays we ran at LSU, the NFL has those exact plays," Jefferson said. "Drawing the different plays up to coaches and everything, they're impressed because we have the same concepts, but different names for them.

"Coming into the league, knowing the things that I know and dealing with the offense that I dealt with definitely makes it a little bit easier," Jefferson added.