Every signing class features a handful of prospects that will be expected to exceed all expectations. It’s an often unreasonable expectation by fans and even coaches. Spend four years telling a player how you can turn him into an All-American and an NFL draft pick, it only makes sense to begin to believe it yourself. Sometimes those players turn out to be Leonard Fournette and sometimes those players turn out to be Russell Shepard. These are players whose athletic giftings are so immense, there is no acceptance of failing to meet the invisible standard. There’s an infinite number of explanations for why players do and don’t meet their expected production and yet the expectations will never change.
JaCoby Stevens is the player whom no excuses will be accepted.
The Back of the Card
110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has "can’t miss" talent.
100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career. There will be 32 prospects ranked in this range in every football class to mirror the first round of the NFL Draft.
97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who is projected to play professionally.
89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country. Many three-stars have significant pro potential.
79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.
247 Composite ranking: *****
247 Composite rating: .9906
Stevens ranked 19th in the 247 composite, finishing with the prestigious 5-star status. At various points he was rated as an athlete, though most services settled on his future being at the Safety position. Stevens was also an Under Armour All-American, where he split the week playing WR and S. Stevens wound up at S for the game, but wound up on multiple top performers lists while working as a WR.
LSU’s roster lists Stevens at 6’2”, 216. Angles and such, but this photo would illustrate he’s taller than Xavier Lewis, who is listed at 6’0”, 200. My guess is Lewis is more like 5’10” and Stevens is a solid 6’1” and looks plenty built out, even as a true freshman.
On The Field
(Stevens is no. 7 in the highlight video)
Already There: Size, Athleticism, Hands, Speed
Working On It: Finding a Home, Mastery of Skill
Doesn’t Have It: Nothing
Size: As discussed above, he’s probably sitting in that 6’0”-6’2” range and around 210+ pounds. That’s good size for the position.
Athleticism: He’s a natural. Fluid, easy mover that can do anything on the football field. Check :30 and you see how seamlessly he runs a slant, makes a cut and changes direction, runs through an arm tackle and then turns on the jets for 6. 1:49 he’s running a skinny post, but look how fluidly he tracks the ball in flight, runs under and allows it to smoothly drop into his hands. Natural. 3:29... would you believe this catch goes for 10+ yards:
Hands: Check out the play that starts at :21. He runs a simple curl, but notice he gets his hands up and plucks the ball out of the air instead of letting it get into his body. Now 1:02. Defensive play this time, but Stevens elevates and plucks the ball right out of the air. That’s a WR-like trait that many DBs, even great ones, lack. 3:02 he runs a decent comeback, then turns, locates and plucks in the air. He reminds me of a baseball player the way he attacks the ball. 6:42... yeah, that’s a one handed INT. 7:22, another leaping, extending, all hands catch. 8:30 why not one more leaping, extending, all-hands catch?
Speed: At :30 you see him run away from the defense. But I love his start/stop ability as well. 6:20 is a fantastic example of his ability to accelerate and beat people to the edge. 7:04 punt return is another strong example. 7:40... angle beater.
Working On It
Finding a Home: Stevens has already switched positions in his short time at LSU. Perhaps more troubling is O says he’ll let him decide where he wants to wind up. Hoping that’s more podium speak than anything. Stevens needs to start honing his skills at a particular spot if he’s to be a high draft pick.
Mastery of Skill: There are areas where his athleticism will purely take over, but refining his craft will determine if he’s a superstar or a guy that relies on athletic talents to get by. He does show great footwork, which bodes well for his overall route running potential. Look at 4:02 and his silky stutter step to get open. He’ll need to become a complete route runner if he wants to be a top tier WR. He’ll need to be able to beat jams and play physical. He’ll need to block for his opponents. These are all things we don’t know right now.
What the Future Holds
Near limitless potential. Stevens is possibly the most athletically gifted player in LSU’s signing class, if not the nation. I agree with the early switch to WR, as there is more readily available opportunities to play at a position seeking answers. Upon hearing Stevens was working in the Slot, I had questions. But when re-reviewing the tape, I can see the thought. Firstly, he’s a mismatch against most slot corners or linebackers that would be covering him. Secondly, his start/stop ability should make him a dynamo in finding holes in the middle of the defense and turning short throws into big gains. And his running ability makes him a high-octane threat in the jet sweep game that Canada brings to the table.
On tape, Stevens reminds me of another formerly gifted LSU athlete: Early Doucet. Both are similarly thickly built players that thrived in do-it-all roles in HS but made the transition to WR. Doucet battled a litany of injuries that prevented his LSU career from ever hitting it’s projected highs, but he was still a dependable target.
When I put all the tools together... I think you have a player, at his highest highs, that could do things like Larry Fitzgerald. Stevens is fluid and effortless in motion, and the way he adjusts to the ball and catches it in with his hands are very advanced for a HS athlete. At Under Armour practices he spent a couple days playing WR and nabbed multiple TDs, while drawing praise for using his frame to create separation and snatching the ball out of the air. The kid just has a “natural” vibe to him. The game comes easy to him. Now, does he have the work ethic to match the talent?
Stevens will make a difference sooner rather than later. The shift to offense came because he has instant impact ability and a direct path to playing time. Don’t at all be surprised if Stevens winds up as one of LSU’s primary offensive weapons, even as a true freshman. I think this move will wind up being permanent. As an early enrollee, he’s been in the program and the staff knows what he can do. Stevens is a special talent and will do special things at LSU.
High End: Heisman finalist, All-American, top NFL draft pick
Low End: Multi-year contributor that never maximizes his potential but displays great flashes
Realistic: Stevens may just emerge as LSU’s no. 1 WR by 2018. Multi-year starter, All-conference player with the potential to break LSU records.
Cody Worsham’s great piece for Tiger Rag
The Mothership with a Preview of Stevens being the next in line at DBU