Two Bednarik Award winners, two Thorpe Award winners, a Heisman finalist and three first round draft picks . That's an impressive resume for any big-time school to promote, but LSU can claim those accomplishments in the past three years alone. And when you consider that LSU has had seven overall draft picks from the secondary over the same time period, you realize that LSU has most certainly earned the title of "DBU."
With that kind of success, it's only natural that others want to become a part of it which only causes the success to snowball. Part of what we've seen in the last two recruiting cycles is that players who star on offense in high school are more than willing to switch to defensive back, as long as they're playing defensive back at LSU. Historically, you've got to pry the ball out of a skill player's hands. But guys like Tre'Davious White and Jeryl Brazil volunteered to make the switch.
Rickey Jefferson is another that falls in that category.
Jefferson exploded onto the scene as a sophomore receiver for Destrehan, flashing some serious next level potential as a small-ish receiver / runner. The summer before his junior season, Jefferson impressed on the camp circuit. He was tabbed as one of the top rising juniors in Louisiana. But then early in his junior season, Jefferson suffered a season ending knee injury and fell off the radar of the recruiting services a bit, who do most of their scouting during a prospect's junior year.
The younger brother of Jordan Jefferson, Rickey missed his junior season at the same time that Jordan was a lightning rod for criticism from LSU fans due to the Shady's incident and his up and down play on the field. When all of the issues with Jordan culminated in the disaster in the Superdome against Alabama, a number of fans wanted to just move on from Jordan and anyone associated with him, including Rickey. Obviously, that doesn't make much sense, but the sentiment was certainly out there.
A few months later, Jefferson committed to Les Miles at LSU's summer camp. He continued to stay a bit under the radar while enjoying a solid senior season. Then, a month after Signing Day, we learned of a brush with the law, which temporarily brought back the anti-Jefferson-everything sentiment. News broke on Monday that Jefferson plead guilty in efforts to put the incident behind him. So for now, Jefferson can focus on playing football and trying to earn his way onto the field as a freshman.
Jefferson is suiting up as a safety for LSU, but he's new to the position. He played almost exclusively on offense at Destrehan, so it's not going to be easy to watch his highlights and envision him doing great things while roaming LSU's secondary. A lot of playing safety is about tackling, angles, and knowing where to be and where to go. Some safeties are excellent despite lacking the ridiculous physical tools because they're very instinctual and can diagnose plays quickly. We won't see any of that by watching Jefferson play receiver. But we do see a ton of skills that will transfer over very nicely.
Check out the highlight at the :24 mark and keep in mind this is from Jefferson's sophomore season. This play isn't anything all that special. Jefferson takes a handoff, turns the ball upfield, bounces outside, then turns up the sideline and gains about 20 yards. Both times Jefferson turns the ball upfield, he absolutely EXPLODES. It jumps off the screen when you watch it, and I watched several times trying to see if the tape was sped up (pretty sure it wasn't). It's a very, very impressive highlight and if he can accelerate like that, then it stands to reason he can do the same coming out of a backpedal to break on a ball.
The 1:12 mark is another really simple play -- just a swing pass, really. But what stands out here is how quickly Jefferson goes from standing still to going full speed up the field. It's almost instantaneous. It again highlights what I pointed out with the first highlight. Jefferson's burst and acceleration is off the charts.
For even more proof, check out 1:47. Jefferson catches a simple pass, takes a couple of lateral steps and then hits the nitro boosters.
Jefferson does not have the prototypical size for a safety. He's not the 6'1" or 6'2" beast such as Craig Loston or Eric Reid or even prospects like Ed Paris or John Battle. LSU has him listed at 5'11" 199 which puts him around the same size as Brandon Taylor. With a shorter player at safety, you'd like to know they can track the ball and go up and get if when the situation presents itself. The play at 1:31 should help ease any concerns you have there. That ability to go get the ball combined with his burst could result in Jefferson being a ball hawk type that gets a number of picks throughout his career.
If there is any reason for concern, aside from Jefferson learning a new position, it's that his senior highlights don't pop nearly as much as those from his sophomore season. Perhaps, he was still feeling things out with the repaired knee or perhaps it's just a mediocre collection of highlights. Regardless, they're far less impressive, at least to me, than those from 2011.
Word started to leak out from summer conditioning and 7-on-7 work that this Rickey Jefferson guy could really play some ball. Then, fall camp started and the rumors were confirmed. Jefferson is consistently named by Les Miles as one of the freshmen that have stood out and that should play significant minutes in 2013. That's exciting, and it tells me that Jefferson is taking to the safety position quickly.
So where does he fit? At this point, the starting safeties seem relatively set with Craig Loston and Ronald Martin; although, Corey Thompson is pushing Martin quite a bit. It's possible that Jefferson could push Jerqwinick Sandolph and Micah Eugene for that final spot in the two-deep. But more likely, we'll see Jefferson make an impact in nickel or dime packages. A year ago, Jalen Mills shifted down to play the nickel and Micah Eugene was the primary dime back. LSU could very well prefer to keep Mills on the outside this year, which means that Jefferson will compete with Eugene, Dwayne Thomas, Sandolph and fellow freshman Tre'Davious White for spots in those packages.
In 2010 and 2011, LSU's defense created big play after big play from the Dime or "Mustang" package. The nickel and dime backs (Tyrann Mathieu and Ron Brooks) were often the catalysts for these plays by utilizing their speed off the edge to rush the passer and create quick, rushed throws. In 2012, John Chavis didn't really have the personnel to attack offenses in the same manner, so he reverted back to more of what we saw in 2009, which was to stick with three linebackers on the field a lot more often. I believe that we could see Jefferson, along with White, in the same roles as the Honey Badger and Ron Brooks this fall if the Chief trusts them enough to have them on the field so often.
If Jefferson doesn't find himself in those packages, he still seems likely to be out there for some special teams work. It's also not totally out of the question that he get some consideration as a return man, though that probably won't come this year. As his highlights above indicate, he'd be a good candidate for it.
Jefferson has some special talents that should translate nicely to playing defensive back. However, we don't know that to be the case because we've never seen him do it. But you can draw a few conclusions from the consistent, glowing remarks heaped upon Jefferson by Les Miles and some of his teammates. It seems highly unlikely that Jefferson will redshirt, so we'll see him on the field this year -- but in what capacity and how often?
High End: A big-time freshman contributor who finds his way onto the field in nickel and/or dime packages and is in the two-deep at safety. Eventual All-SEC player as an upperclassman.
Low End: Honestly, the low-end is pretty low. He has a very recent history of having an issue with the law, which is a troubling pattern when considering his older brother's issues. His career could get derailed before it even gets started if he doesn't straighten up. On the field, the low end could be that he fails to adjust to playing defense and that the talent in LSU's secondary simply swallows him up and he gets lost on the depth chart, contributing sparingly during his career.
Realistic: A solid contributor early in his career who starts by his third season and is solid, if not very, very good.