2021 NFL Draft rookie profile: Oregon St. RB Jermar Jefferson


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Jermar Jefferson burst onto the scene as a freshman at Oregon State. Jefferson garnered Freshman All American and Pac-12 Freshman of the year honors with a banner campaign. He rolled up 1,527 total yards from scrimmage in that first season. While Jefferson exploded as an 18-year-old, the rest of his collegiate career was a roller coaster that requires some context. Jefferson’s transition to the NFL will be an interesting one considering his skill set. 

Jermar Jefferson college stats

Jefferson arrived at Oregon State as a three-star prospect, per 247sports. Despite the high yardage totals in his breakout first season, his per-carry elusiveness was vanilla at best. In 2018, among 232 running backs with 75 or more rushing attempts, Jefferson ranked 126th in yards after contact per attempt (3.05). Jefferson battled an ankle injury in 2019 that limited him to six games started and nine games played. And his effectiveness dipped during his games played as a result. His yards per carry fell to 4.8, and his yards after contact per attempt (2.80) suffered, as he was ranked 170th (out of 200 running backs with 75 or more rushing attempts). Last season, Jefferson was back at full health, missing only one game due to COVID-19 protocols. He enjoyed the best season of his collegiate career from an efficiency standpoint, ranking 35th (out of 148 running backs with 75 or more rushing attempts) in yards per contact per attempt (3.67). 

Jefferson enjoyed extensive usage in the passing game during his freshman season but saw his target share decrease during his time at Oregon State. In 2018, Jefferson saw a 7.4% target, share running 13.9 routes per game. Jefferson was not effective during that year on a per-target basis, ranking 82nd (out of 113 running backs with 20 or more targets) in yards per route run (0.88). The combination of Artavis Pierce and a bum ankle hurt his pass game production the following season. Pierce led the team with 16.2 routes per game compared to Jefferson’s 11.3 routes per game. Jefferson saw his routes bounce back in 2020 (18.5 per game), but his target share still sat at a pitiful 5.2%. 

Strengths: Jermar Jefferson is a volume rusher

  • Instinctive zone runner
  • Volume rusher

Jefferson operated in a zone-heavy run scheme during his time at Oregon State. During his college career, between 67.3% and 78.9% of his carries each season were on zone plays. He excelled due to his ability to cut back against the grain and bend around the edge. Jefferson’s superb first step helped him compensate for average vision running between the tackles. 

Jefferson displayed the ability to handle a sizable workload in 2018 and 2020. During his first year, he averaged 19.9 rushing attempts per game. He put the offense on his back with 19 or more rushing attempts in 75% of his games that season. The team asked even more of him on the ground in 2020 as he averaged 22.1 rushing attempts per game. If an NFL team is looking for a back that can handle heavy usage in the middle rounds, Jefferson could be their guy. 

Weaknesses: Jermar Jefferson’s won’t break many tackles

  • Tackle breaking
  • Receiving
  • Pass protection

Jefferson shows the ability to shed arm tackles after he’s built up momentum, but there are numerous times where the first tackler brings him down in the backfield. Jefferson is not an imposing figure at 5-foot-9 and 215 pounds, but even considering that, he still runs small for a back his size. In 2018, Jefferson ranked seventh among all running backs in 10-yard runs. He did so with his cut-back ability and his expertise at getting small through creases in the defense. Stiff arming defenders and breaking tackles are not how Jefferson will win at the next level. 

Jefferson saw his receiving usage dwindle as his college career progressed. This could be attributed to his lukewarm skills as a receiver and his pass protection issues. In 2018 Jefferson logged 106 pass-blocking snaps which turned out to be a college high. That number dipped to 29 in 2019 and 24 in this last season. Oregon State phased him out in this department after watching him struggle in his freshman season to protect the quarterback. That year among 104 running backs with 65 or more pass-blocking snaps, he was tied for 14th in pressures allowed (8) and ranked 87th in pass protection efficiency, per PFF. Currently, Jefferson profiles best as an early-down banger in the NFL, which is weird to say considering his size and lack of physicality. 

Where will Jermar Jefferson land in the NFL draft?

  • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers mine value at the running back position from the realms of UDFA land and the middle rounds. Jefferson would fit like a glove in an offense that utilized zone runs on 66.2% of their rushing attempts in 2020.
  • Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles have a need behind Miles Sanders. In 2020, Jonathan Taylor ranked ninth in zone rushing attempts (134). New head coach and former Colts coordinator Nick Sirianni could deploy a similar system with the Eagles.
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