Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Jefferson is Jordan Matthews 2.0

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

If the Philadelphia Eagles are serious about adding playmakers in the 2020 NFL Draft, they should avoid LSU’s Justin Jefferson, as he projects to be Jordan Matthews 2.0.

No player helped themself more at the 2020 NFL Combine than LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson.

The go-to big slot receiving option for the Tigers over the past two seasons, Jefferson road expert quarterback play from consensus number one pick Joe Burrow into legitimate Day 2 draft consideration, but that all changed when he ran a 4.43 40.

Barring an unforeseen setback, Jefferson is now a first-round lock and may end up being the fourth wide receiver taken above players like Baylor‘s Denzel Mims, TCU speedster Jalen Reagor, and Colorado wildcard Laviska Shenault. This is good news for Geaux Tigers Nation and the entire Jefferson family, but not so much for a team like the Philadelphia Eagles in desperate need of long-term wide receiver help.

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Why? Because Justin Jefferson is Jordan Matthews 2.0.

Now to be fair, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Matthews was an immediate contributor in his rookie campaign out of Vanderbilt and amassed 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns over his first tenure in midnight green. Whether hauling in balls from Nick Foles, Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, or eventually Carson Wentz, Matthews was a reliable option across the middle of the field, picked up a team-high 127 first downs, and while catching a team-high 65 percent of his targets.

If it wasn’t for a preseason trade to the Buffalo Bills in 2017, Matthews may still be locked into a long-term starting role as the Birds’ big slot receiver opposite Zach Ertz, with a long-term, lucrative contract to show for it.

That, unfortunately, is the sort of career fans should expect if Jefferson ends up taking a one-way flight from Vegas to South Philly on draft night.

On paper, Jefferson and Matthews look almost identical. Both measure in at 6-foot-3, with broad shoulders and lean builds. Jefferson weighs 23 pounds less than Matthews, but ran a .03 second faster 40, jumped a six-inch longer broad, and a two-inch taller vertical. Even though Jefferson didn’t participate in the bench press, shuttle, or 3 cone drill, it’s safe to assume his numbers would be roughly comparable to Matthews’ number in those drills too.

Despite playing in different offensive schemes in college, with Jefferson a featured player in Joe Brady‘s transcendent passing offense, while Matthews made his name playing under future Penn State head coach James Franklin in Tennessee, the duo played near-identical roles for their respective schools. Both deployed exclusively out of the slot, ran themselves open with solid routes, and bodied up on smaller cornerbacks in contested situations. Neither played like a player with 4.4 speed, as they were seldom asked to go vertical as a primary deep threat despite receiving a plurality of their team’s targets.

If you remove the names from the jerseys, it’d be hard to tell Matthews and Jefferson apart for their on-field performances – take from that what you will.

In summation, Jefferson is a solid wide receiving prospect with a high floor and an ability to impact a team from the jump as a third starter, but is that stability what the Eagles really need going into 2020?

At the combine, Howie Roseman made a point that the Eagles need to add long-term playmakers going into the forthcoming season. After committing serious resources to adding safe, veteran stop-gaps across the board to keep their Super Bowl-winning coalition intact, the Eagles find themselves without a ton of young difference makers on rookie contracts, a situation that needs to change to return to the title conversation six months from now.

Next. Jalen Mills is a solid second starter. dark

Trading up for Henry Ruggs III fits that bill, as does betting on a ‘second-tier’ receiver like Mims, Reagor, or Shenault. But does using the 21st overall pick on a player like Jordan Matthews make the Philadelphia Eagles a more dangerous team in 2020, let alone 2023? Justin Jefferson may end up having a great rookie season, earn a second contract, and have a decade-spanning NFL career, but he could just as easily top out as a solid number two option on a team with a ton of solid number two options already under contract.