It’s not easy playing in the shadow of LSU’s highly touted safety Jamal Adams. It’s even harder when you can’t prove your worth and exhibit your continued development during your senior season because of a broken ankle, as was the case with Rickey Jefferson.
He has been given that showcase now however, as the Oakland Raiders signed him to a tryout contract as an undrafted free agent on April 29.
The former Destrehan standout excelled at wide receiver during his high school career only to shift gears to the defensive side of the ball upon landing in Death Valley. He steadily improved each year as a Tiger and stepped into a pivotal role as a senior in 2016 before the ankle injury cut his season short after just five games.
The year prior, as a junior, Jefferson set career highs in tackles (36), passes defended (3) and sacks (1), proving that he was finally becoming comfortable in his role in Kevin Steele’s defense.
After Dave Aranda took over as defensive coordinator for the 2016 season, Jefferson was really coming into his own. Starting in all five games, he racked up 23 tackles, one interception and one pass defended. Not awe-inspiring numbers, but still on pace to set career highs across the board in every statistical category.
Much of the NFL scouting process is centered on what the future holds for prospects and not what they’ve accomplished in college. That’s why Jefferson is still a really intriguing prospect. Were his numbers particularly impressive? Certainly not, but he showed steady improvement and the capacity to develop in a program that historically produces standout defensive backs.
Height: 5’10 3/4”
Bench: 17 Reps
Vertical: 35 1/2”
Broad Jump: 10”
**All testing numbers and measurements taken from LSU Tigers’ Pro Day and made available by www.lsusports.net
2016 - 5 GP, 23 TKL, 0 TFL, 1 INT
2015 - 10 GP, 36 TKL, 1.0 TFL, 1 INT
2014 - 10 GP, 23 TKL, 1.5 TFL, 2 INT
2013 - 5 GP, 6 TKL, 0.5 TFL, 0 INT
Two words: ball skills. As a former standout WR in high school, Jefferson didn’t become a defensive back because of his inability to catch as is sometimes the case. If he can get more comfortable with positioning and improve his tackling technique, he could become a interception factory in the pros.
Jefferson’s longevity on an LSU defense that didn’t dip below 24th in the nation in pass defense during his four year collegiate career is also impressive. His stats might not scream NFL-ready, but it says something that his coaches consistently kept him on the field in one of the nations stingiest defensive units for four straight seasons.
It would’ve been interesting to see what Jefferson could’ve accomplished in the second half of the 2016 season had he stayed healthy. Teammates Jamal Adams and Tre’Davious White’s play earned them first round selections and would’ve created a lot of opportunities for Jefferson to make plays of his own.
Bottom line—as an unheralded prospect living in the shadows of Adams and the long lineage of first round LSU DB’s—it would’ve been really easy for Jefferson to fold after a broken ankle cut the second half of his senior showcase season short. Instead, he rehabbed relentlessly and didn’t give up on his dream of becoming an NFL football player. That says something strong about his character that shouldn’t be discounted.
Steady improvement is admirable and can help the determined college prospect mould their game adequately for the pros in the right situations. But once you land on an NFL field, the days of patient coaches and baby step learning curves are out the window. Especially as an undrafted free agent. Sure the Jared Goff’s of the world have time to learn from their mistakes as they navigate the harsh terrain of the league, but Jefferson won’t be afforded that same luxury.
From 2014-16, Adams never played less than 12 games or posted less than 66 tackles in a season. During that same time period Jefferson never played more than 10 games or topped 36 tackles in a season. Of course, it’s not fair to compare Jefferson to the eventual sixth overall pick, but the fact is they operated in the same system and their production wasn’t even in the same area code.
His testing numbers weren’t terrible, but they also weren’t spectacular; 4.58 speed might be fast at the veteran combine, but against NFL receivers it isn’t going to get it done. To his credit however, Jefferson’s speed did seem sufficient on tape and he has tested faster in the past. Adams had the luxury of attempting the 40 at the combine (4.58) as well as the LSU Pro Day (4.33), another example of how top prospects have a greater margin for error.
What he brings to the Raiders
Jefferson is the classic high upside, low production prospect. Just like Paul Boyette Jr., who I featured yesterday, it will be up to Jefferson to step onto the Raiders’ practice field and immediately draw attention to himself for the right reasons. The margin for error on the field for undrafted free agents is razor thin and just playing relatively well—as Jefferson did at LSU—will no longer be enough.
The Raiders have done well thus far at signing undrafted players who were overlooked in college, but could excel in the pros. Jefferson fits this archetype because, had it not been for his ankle injury last October, it’s very plausible he would’ve had his most successful collegiate season en route to being taken in the NFL Draft.
If Jefferson continued to learn the subtleties of the safety position while he rehabbed in 2016, his game might be at a much higher level than his pedestrian numbers indicate. Assuming that’s the case, he could bring the swagger of an LSU safety to Alameda along with a skill-set that may be ready to fully bloom.
The Tigers have a reputation as “DBU” for a reason.