Movin On Up
Experts currently have Arkansas QB, KJ Jefferson, ranked anywhere from a 2nd round pick to an UDFA. Jefferson is a frustrating QB to watch. He "looks the part", because he's a big, strong guy with solid arm strength and is a powerful runner. In terms of his physical building blocks, he's a QB in the mold of a Dak Prescott. In the end, however, the pieces don't fit together. Jefferson is too raw and inconsistent to rank highly as a draft prospect. I have a Day 3 grade on him. My NFL comp for him is Andre' Woodson, who played at Kentucky and was a 6th round pick in 2008.
TDN: Big, strong, dense build. Explosive athleticism, powerful arm. Calmly sidesteps pressure, stands in and takes hits in pocket. Delivers in big moments in game. Needs to improve accuracy and ability to read field. Doesn't throw with enough touch. Inexperienced and needs more polish. (Ryan Fowler 2023) 9th best QB in class.
NFLMDD consensus big board 8th QB, 76th overall (3rd round)
Tankathon 5th QB, 75th overall (3rd round)
Drafttek 9th QB, 103rd overall (late 3rd to early 4th round)
BuffaloFAMBase big board 11th QB, 100th overall (late 3rd round to early 4th round)
Sports Illustrated (summer of 2022): Has frame of an OLB, superior play strength, takes a crowd to bring him down, intimidating size as runner. Recognizes holes in coverage pre-snap. Timely goes through progression. Shows touch near LOS, can layer passes. Changes arm angle to work ball around defenders. Precise ball placement. Reliable deep balls. Lacks vision as runner, collides with backs of blockers. Lazy footwork and mechanics. Not activating lower body saps ball velocity. Accuracy declines when on the move. Questionable decision making. 5th round grade. In 2023 (Froyd) listed as 14th best QB in draft class. SI big board not ranked among top 20 QBs.
NFLDB 8th QB, 65th overall (projected late 2nd round): Good accuracy and deep balls. Confident. Pure athlete. Fades back and throws off back foot. Struggles with decision making, reading and recognition. Doesn't decipher information quickly. Will need to prove he can handle NFL progression based system.
PFN (Ian Cummings) 13th best QB in class.
Shane Hallam 7th QB, 91st overall (late 3rd round)
PFN draft simulator 16th QB, 155th overall (5th round)
Name: Kenneth Dewayne Jefferson Jr. Turns 23 years old in May of 2024. Redshirt senior.
Size: Listed 6'3'' tall, 246 pounds. NFLDB 4.69 second 40 time. Sports Illustrated 4.68 second 40 time.
4 star recruit from a very small town in northern MS. Played basketball. Listed at 215 pounds as a recruit with a 4.57 second 40 time. His mom suffered a stroke and had to learn to walk again when he was a senior in high school.
Redshirted in 2019. Backup to Feliepe Franks in 2020. Played with Treylon Burks in 2021.
One of 4 team captains in 2022. One of 5 team captains in 2021. Direct and to the point in interviews.
2021 (13 starts, 9-4 record): 67.3% completions, 2,676 yards, 9.10 yards per attempt, 21 TDs, 4 INTs, 146-664-6 rushing. 5 fumbles, 27 sacks
2022 (12 starts, 7-5 record): 68.0% completions, 2,648 yards, 8.83 ypa, 24 TDs, 5 INTs, 158-640-9 rushing. 5 fumbles, 23 sacks
Team bio says he likes shopping, shoes and cars.
It doesn't sound like Jefferson has been healthy for much of his career. He had a lingering knee injury early in the 2021 season and struggled with a shoulder injury in the middle of the 2022 season. Right shoulder and clavicle injury in 2022, missing one game. Concussion in 2022, missing one game. Undisclosed injury in another 2022 game. Minor knee injury in 2020. PCL strain in left knee 2021. Leg injury in 2021. Arthroscopic knee surgery January of 2022.
Presumably will be a 3 year captain for his team, an impressive accomplishment.
Tough customer running the ball. Big and strong, adequate acceleration relative to his size. Has downhill momentum, making him difficult to bring down. Run strength and balance to pull out of tackles. Can hammer it up middle and run through contact. Bulk to surge forward on QB sneaks.
Senses pressure in pocket and understands how to evade it. Nice subtle and composed movements to step away from pressure, but still have base and balance to be prepared to throw. Can throw the ball with defenders hanging on to him. Off platform, can still generate velocity on ball.
Does not go down easy, stays on feet against hits that would bring other QBs to the ground. Shrugs off defenders and sheds them like he's Ben Roethlisberger, slipping out of potential sacks. Physical gifts transform "bad plays" into successful plays. Didn't feel pressure and should have been sacked in pocket, but someone steps out of tackle, stumbles and nearly falls down, but stays up, then as QB is falling backwards, about to get sacked by 2nd defender, flings the ball downfield and WR makes shoetop catch for 15 yard gain. Looked like he was going to get sacked by DE, but somehow stays up and pulls out of it, breaks tackle by safety, rumbles down field for 30 yards.
Enough arm talent to be draft prospect. Very nice 30 yard hole shot to fit it between CB and S. While he has a strong arm, has the ability to throw with touch and take speed off of the ball to make it easier to catch. Does have some ability to layer passes over defenders, though trajectory isn't overly impressive. Manipulates defenders with pump fakes.
Does not pronate wrist and drop the ball below his jersey number on wind up. After receiving snap, the ball goes from his chest straight up and cocks behind his ear then out to the WR.
Consistently made good RPO decisions regarding whether to give ball to RB or pull it.
Some things happened that weren't his fault. Long 3rd down, OC dials up perfect play call to beat the coverage, but the 2 WRs running deep collide with each other, so instead of WR coming wide open, QB has to go to into emergency mode to salvage situation.
Looked slightly faster running in one game and not others, making me wonder if he had some type of leg ailment that limited him in certain contests.
Kendal Briles was the OC for Arkansas, but left to join TCU in 2023. Briles ran a Baylor style Air Raid type scheme, a spread offense, RPO based shotgun system, with very side WR splits. Predetermined throws and very basic reads in the scheme, QB was not required to make complicated reads, didn't have many full field reads. Extended portions of a game where QB doesn't need to anything challenging from a mental standpoint.
Not accurate enough. This is the single biggest flaw that bothers me about Jefferson, he simply doesn't reliably put the ball where it needs to be located. Long 3rd down, WR creates leverage on route, should be conversion, but QB sails pass way over head of WR. RPO, basic 5 yard spot route by WR, QB bounces pass wide and short, burying ball into the ground. Long 3rd down, WR over middle sits in zone void, should be very simple conversion, pass misses well wide, bounces off of hands of WR. "Aims the ball" instead of having fluid and consistent mechanics. Red zone, middle field open, no safety deep. Once the LB jumps the slant, this should be an automatic TD. All the QB has to do is throw the ball into the 2nd window and it is a "lay up", because there is no defender in the middle of the field, the space is wide open. QB doesn't feel this, double clutches, then his throw is behind the WR and low, very lucky the WR still digs it out for the TD, a tough catch instead of being a very easy score. Tries to throw sideline backshoulder to WR, but instead of going to backshoulder, the pass is inside of WR's inside shoulder, lucky the CB didn't react to ball better. WR is inside the CB on slant, but pass goes to backshoulder of WR instead of being placed on inside shoulder and leading the WR upfield, pass broken up. WR wide open in the flat, all QB has to do is gently touch ball over LOS to him, but QB throws ball low and flat, batted down, ruining potential big gain. Deep fade, pass is thrown all the way over on the inside of the CB instead of being placed towards the sideline to the outside of the WR. Bubble screen to the left, the QB's left foot is parallel with the LOS, pass sails high, forcing WR to jump high and fully extend to make catch, nearly a TFL as 1st defender has tackle opportunity behind line. 35 yard seam route should be thrown on top of the numbers, but ball goes to sideline for near INT. Long 3rd down, defensive secondary caught falling asleep, allows WR to streak behind them, 30 yard pass, all QB needs to do is let WR run under ball and it is a sure 50 yard TD, but his pass drifts wide, off target, forcing WR to have to make difficult adjustment to flight of ball and he's unable to come up with the catch. RB speed out on short 3rd down, if ball is placed on outside shoulder, RB has chance to pick up first down, but throw forces RB to spin around to make catch and he's tackled short of the marker. Blown coverage, WR all alone, QB throws TD, but the ball placement led WR back towards the safety instead of towards open field, causing WR to take a heavy hit at the catch point. WR has leverage on route running over middle, pass should be thrown into 2nd window to left of the LB standing in middle of field, but QB forces the ball into 1st window, which forces the WR to make a difficult sliding catch on pass that is behind him.
Only basic ability to read coverage and go through the progression. Primary read is available, the WR got leverage on the CB and there is space to fit the ball, this is "open" by NFL standards, even though there isn't huge separation, but QB doesn't have guts to make throw, turns it down, no one else is open, so QB just eats the ball and gets sacked. QB drops back, looks entire time at left side of field, never turns his head to read rest of progression to the right, before trying to leave clean pocket and running himself directly into sack. All he had to do is turn his head and glance to the right and he would have seen his safety outlet RB beat the LB, wide open for simple dump off pass that could have gained nice YAC. Needs to better job mastering intricacies of playbook. Nice play design where TE drags LB away from middle, then RB releases from backfield in other direction, popping wide open, but QB doesn't recognize that RB is all alone and never considers throwing it to the RB.
Eyes tend to drop and look at the pass rush instead of maintaining focus downfield. Critical 3rd down in 4th quarter, team desperately needs a TD. QB drops eyes to dodge rush, never sees underneath WR come wide open, if he had thrown pass to WR could have been huge gain.
Questionable choices. 1st down snap, good drive going, extended play out of pocket, but attempts nearly impossible throw into double coverage, ball is underthrown and goes directly to CB for near INT, only saved when CB doesn't get foot down inbounds. 1st down snap in red zone, no safety in the middle, CB has inside leverage and jumps slant, QB doesn't sense it, a backshoulder throw likely would be a TD, but pass thrown to inside shoulder and becomes a very costly INT to CB, who beats the WR to the catch point. Lacks imagination to improvise and create. Had opportunity to create off script, but instead of lobbing pass to lead WR downfield, decided to just chuck ball out of bounds.
Segmented mover. Gets ball out fine when feet are already pointed in direction of target, but doesn't have quick release when he has to move his feet. For some reason he doesn't wind up until after he flips his hips and lines up his feet, resulting in a split second delay when targeting a WR on opposite side of field of his initial set up. This happens not only on designed throws, but also when QB goes through the progression. If he starts out on one side of the field, then comes all the way to the other side to dump the pass to his RB in the flat as a safety outlet, he does not begin wind up until after turning hips, slowing the timing of the release of the pass to the RB.
More of a big, lumbering guy than an explosive runner. Doesn't have good burst. Build up speed. Has no extra gear to win races to the corner. Long 3rd down, QB sees opening in line, tries to scramble for first down, but grabbed by ankles and tackled from behind before he can get through the hole. QB feels edge pressure, tries to step forward and scramble up middle, but before he can get out of pocket, the DE drags him down from behind, QB not able to run fast enough to pull away. Not elusive in space, he has a plow forward style. Segmented movement as a runner changing directions that mirrors the way he moves and throws when inside the pocket. Average independent leg drive on sneaks, needs push from players behind him to keep forward momentum going. Not creative as a runner, he mostly just puts his head down and charges forward, doesn't seem to understand how to set up defenders and maximize the lead blocker so that he can cut into open field, ends up angling towards pursuing defenders instead of away from them. Really loses speed when he tries to change directions and becomes a slow, sitting duck. One consequence of his running style is he exposes himself to successive forceful hits, like Rocky Balboa. Lack of wiggle in space results in him taking huge shots from defenders, absorbing 100% of the power of the hit.
Needs to tuck the ball away tighter and secure it better both when running and when inside of the pocket.
Sometimes messed up RPO read at mesh point if the DE crashed very quickly, seeming to surprise the QB.
Long injury history to both upper and lower body. Style of play and lack of athleticism creates durability questions moving forward.
Dan Enos is Arkansas's new OC for 2023. Enos uses more of a pro style offense. He was the OC for Arkansas the final season that Hunter Henry and Brandon Allen were there. Enos is known for integrating West Coast concepts from the pro ranks with college spread ideas and for emphasizing TEs. He coached Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa when he was on Bama's staff. He coached Cooper Rush at Central Michigan, Drew Stanton and Bryan Hoyer at Michigan State. While changing the offensive scheme isn't ideal for a QB's continuity and comfort level, this change might help prepare Jefferson for the NFL, because an Air Raid system generally puts QBs behind the learning curve when they get to the pros. Arkansas doesn't have Ricky Stromberg at center anymore, a key loss on the OL.
The Hogs play BYU and Kedon Slovis on September 16th. They play several challenging road contests against LSU, Ole Miss, Alabama and Florida.
Several draft boards have KJ Jefferson ranked as a possible Day 2 selection, but I'm not as high on him at the moment. I'm in agreement with the experts who rank him as a Day 3 pick or maybe even an UDFA. He is a raw, developmental QB who needs to show considerable improvement in 2023 if he wants to become a major factor in a potentially deep QB draft class.