Late in the 7th round of the 2021 NFL Draft the Detroit Lions, with pick 257, selected Jermar 'Munch' Jefferson, a running back from the Oregon State Beavers.
Now fans can be forgiven for not really knowing players this late in the draft, especially over here in the UK where access to NCAA Football is tougher to come by. And in some cases they can be forgiven for not really caring as a lot of these late round picks either don't make the final team going into the upcoming season or they do but don't have a very noticeable impact on their franchise before departing further down the line. However I clearly remember my ears pricking up when this pick was made and after a few seconds of wandering why my mind took me back to a certain NCAA game I watched last November, more specifically the Oregon Derby (as we would label it here in the UK) in which the Oregon State Beavers caused an upset against the Oregon Ducks to register their first win over a ranked opponent since 2014. And a big factor in that win was a certain running back who impressed me heavily and went off for 226 rushing yards and 2 TD's, his name was Jermar Jefferson.
Jefferson is 21 years of age, stands at 5'10 and weighs about 210 lb.'s. His college football career consisted of a 3 year stint with the Oregon State Beavers. In this time he played 27 games for the Beavers (21 of which were starts). He had 514 rushing attempts, compiling 2'923 rushing yards at an average of 5.7 YPC and scored 27 TD's. In the passing game he had 43 receptions for 299 receiving yards and a further 2 TD's.
Jefferson had a short but very productive 2020 season. He rushed for 858 yards in just 6 games and only failed to pass the 100 yard rushing mark in one game against Stanford (80). He got 103 yards vs Arizona State, 226 yards vs Oregon, 196 yards vs California, 133 yards vs Washington, and 120 yards vs Washington State. He finished the season with the following accolades;
Co-PAC-12 Offensive Player of the Year by Associated Press
2020 Associated Press and Coaches All-PAC-12 First Team
2 x PAC 12 Offensive Player of the Week in 2020
Jefferson leaves Oregon State 5th in All-Time Rushing Yards (2,923), 5th in All-Time 100-Yard rushing efforts (15), and 5th All-Time in Rushing TD's (27). The 100 yard game record is particularly impressive, 15 games over 100 yards bearing in mind he only started 21 games. In getting drafted by the Lions, Jefferson is only the 3rd Beaver's RB to be drafted this century (one of whom was Steven Jackson who went for over 11,000 Rushing yards in a long career mostly with the Rams).
Now before we start this analysis I want to say that my opinion on Jefferson is high, but I have not forgotten that he is a 7th round pick who's initial ceiling will be to fight for the RB3 spot on the team, or possibly fighting even just to make the team itself, but I'm a positive guy who likes to see the best in every player and will certainly try to build a case for him succeeding here.
So where does Jefferson excel? His game is built on his vision, more specifically the ability to effectively follow blocks and find running lanes before they have even opened up. He then uses great burst speed to breach the gaps and if he is able to make it to the open field has the nimble feet and agility to make defenders miss tackles as he rips off big downfield gains for his side.
There is no better example of this than in his monster game against the Oregon Ducks. Jefferson takes a hand off and cautiously approaches the Line Of Scrimmage, with immediate viewing seemingly indicating that no running lanes are available. However Jefferson has already analysed the developing play during his patient approach. He can see that the Y-Tight End has got the Defensive End locked up, the Right Guard is wrecking the Defensive Tackle which has allowed the Right Tackle to move up to the second level to block. He then suddenly cuts back to hit the gap between the Guard and Tight End and sure enough the hole has opened up, he then shows good balance to get through the crowd and uses the space made by the advancing Tackle to kick in his burst speed and open up a gap to the covering defenders and just like that he is gone and runs in an 81 yard touchdown.
Another great example of his vision and patience is the very first play of the game against California. A big gap opens up on the LOS to the right of the Center which he takes. He sees that the Y-Tight End has destroyed his assigned target and is pushing him right back into the second level, Jefferson get's behind and follows the block and here is where that elite vision shows through. There is a huge gap to the left of the blocker that he could take right away for a nice gain but he sees beyond that there is a covering Safety who will be able to get at him if he goes early so he stays behind the advancing blocker, this means the cover Safety is unable to commit himself and he ends up getting double stacked on to the block and taken out of the play, as soon as Jefferson sees this he hits the gap and he's gone for another huge TD run, this time just short of 80 yards.
Seeing examples of play like this is heartening, because one of Jefferson's drawbacks is his speed which is not elite and maybe slower than a lot of the NFL standard RB's. But if you can utilise your vision skills to find gaps and give yourself an advantage coupled with finding a knack for getting your timings right you can negate the issues that are caused by not having that elite speed cause you get a jump on faster guys and can still pull off big yardage runs.
And whilst we are highlighting the negatives to Jefferson's game, we have to mention his size which is not the biggest or toughest. He does not have the brute strength to move the pile and is susceptible to getting brought down easily in one on one situations with much bigger defenders which is responsible for a lot of the cap on his NFL ceiling and why he was a later round draft pick. To survive in the NFL he is going to have to show that he is capable of always been one step ahead of bigger, faster defenders to ensure he can have a valuable impact on games, but I do believe he has the skill set to achieve that.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzGpSv3wavs (Oregon Derby- You'll find the aforementioned play starting at 0:45)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25lXVJDkRzQ&t=10s (Oregan vs California- You'll find the aforementioned play right at the start of the video)
To find his spot on the roster and compete as the RB 3 which is what the initial goal for Jefferson will be, he is going to need 3 things;
Natural Talent- He has shown he has this. Despite playing behind an Offensive Line that was graded in the bottom 20th percentile as a run blocking unit he was still able to put up huge numbers, again thanks to his vision and footballing IQ that allowed him to stay ahead on plays. He has also shown adequate receiving skills which adds a little more versatility as to how he can be utilised.
Blocking Ability- His blocking skills were questionable in his first years in Oregon, however the tape shows that he has improved a lot in this field and, despite his limited size, that he is a tenacious player who gives his all when blocking and isn't afraid to mix it up with the biggest and baddest and is more than capable of coming out on top. With the right coaching he will be able to fill the void left by Kerryon Johnson in the blocking game.
Short Yardage Ability- It is critical for teams to possess someone in the backfield who can get those crucial third down yards, not only for the fact that extending drives is critical to success but also for those tricky red-zone situations when you need that extra something to get over the line. One would think given Jefferson's size that he would not really fit the bill for these situations but that is simply untrue. Yes he doesn't have the brute force to drag himself over the LOS, but he doesn't need it, instead he uses his awareness to hunt down the gaps, something he can do very quickly, and get through them to achieve the yardage before anyone can lay a hand on him. I'll point you again towards the California game tape when Oregon are running the 4 minute offense to see out the game. Jefferson closes the game out despite the team been in precarious field position, but what is impressive is instead of just getting over the chains, he actually pulls off several big runs for considerable gain to really put the game to bed, even in that situation he isn't looking just to do enough, he's looking at how he can do more which Cali are not expecting.
So does Jefferson have what it takes to succeed and become more than just a throwaway pick at the end of the draft? And does he stand to be a beneficial tool for the Lions? In my opinion it's a solid yes to both. Sure he has size and speed issues which are going to cap just how great he can be, but he has shown to me that he has the tools in his vision skills and patience that will make him a nuisance for opposition defenders to deal with. And as for his fit on the roster he is the perfect foil for our backfield. Jefferson for me will be able to slot in at RB 3 and do the nitty gritty work required in those situations, thus freeing up D'Andre Swift and Jamal Williams to go and deal out huge damage on early down plays because they are both early down guys capable of been the lead back so let them do what they are best at whilst letting Jefferson get game time on 3rd downs whilst he polishes his skills and develops.
After the injustice of Jason Huntley last season, I hope Jefferson is given a chance to earn his way into the team and shine, a chance I'm backing him to take if given. So no Todd Gurley, or other washed up veteran RB's please, let's allow the rookies to star as they are critical to this rebuilding phase of the Campbell era. Vote Jefferson for RB3 #munchbunch
Welcome to Detroit Jermar!
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