Once one of the nation’s top recruits, does LSU safety JaCoby Stevens still have a skill set that’s translatable in the NFL Draft? Once advertised as a future first-round pick, Stevens is no longer so universally lauded. Still, the LSU safety has a unique physical profile, one that might help him find a role early in the NFL.
JaCoby Stevens NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Safety
- School: LSU
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 6’1 1/8″
- Weight: 212 pounds
- Wingspan: 77 3/8″
- Arm: 31 3/4″
- Hand: 9 1/4″
Tony Pauline’s JaCoby Stevens Scouting Report
Positives: Large, tough safety who is best making plays in the box or up the field. Instinctive, plays heads-up football and does a good job with coverage assignments facing the action. Physical, works hard, and fires up the field defending the run. Breaks down well and works his hands to protect himself or get off blocks.
Sells out to make plays. Works well with cornerbacks to bracket receivers over the middle of the field. Gets his teammates in the secondary in proper position.
Negatives: Ineffective pedaling in reverse, not quick flipping his hips, and loses in transition. Plays to one speed.
Analysis: Stevens is a smart, hard-working strong safety prospect who is best facing the action. He could flourish in a system that keeps him between the numbers, primarily having him play downhill.
JaCoby Stevens Player Profile
The LSU Tigers have a long-standing history of success in recruiting, and JaCoby Stevens was one of their gems of the previous decade. Stevens was a five-star prospect on 247 Sports’ board. Rated as the 18th-best player in the nation and the best player at his position, Stevens was already well on his way to stardom.
Playing both receiver and safety, Stevens had 34 catches for 673 yards and 12 scores in his final season. He also had 16.5 tackles for loss, nine interceptions, and 13 pass deflections over the course of his career.
Viewed as a do-it-all prospect, Stevens attracted offers from schools like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Georgia, and Oklahoma. With plenty of blue-chip programs to choose from, Stevens opted to sign with the LSU Tigers, joining a vaunted defense loaded with NFL talent.
JaCoby Stevens’ career as an LSU safety
Stevens clearly possessed talent out of high school, but he needed some on-field experience at the collegiate level before he could acclimate. In his true freshman season, he got experience on both sides of the ball, splitting reserve reps at wide receiver and safety. He only put up 2 receptions for 32 yards, but that season set the bedrock for his eventual growth.
In 2018, Stevens took on a larger role on the defensive side of the ball. He played in 11 games, starting 4, and amassed 35 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, 5 pass deflections, and a fumble recovery. 4.0 of those tackles for loss came against Texas A&M, serving as an example of his immense potential in the box.
Stevens’ final two seasons with the Tigers
In 2019, Stevens continued on his upward developmental track, contributing to the LSU Tigers’ dominant championship run. While Joe Burrow and the offense attracted the headlines, Stevens made a name for himself as a playmaker on defense. In 15 games, the LSU safety registered 92 total tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 6 pass deflections.
For his play in 2019, Stevens was given second-team All-SEC recognition. He was eligible for the 2020 NFL Draft and could’ve sold high. Instead, however, he chose to return for his senior season in order to earn his degree and continue competing on the collegiate stage.
The decision was a smart one for Stevens’ academic career. However, on the field, the entire LSU defense regressed as a whole, and Stevens was not immune. In 10 games, Stevens logged 63 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, 4 pass deflections, a forced fumble, and 3 fumble recoveries. The LSU safety still brought his energy and leadership, but his draft stock shouldered increased vulnerability heading into 2021.
Stevens accepted a Senior Bowl invite in hopes of rekindling his forward momentum.
Analyzing JaCoby Stevens’ NFL Draft profile
Standing at 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, JaCoby Stevens has great size for the safety position. He’s also densely built, and he pairs this size with solid, above-average length. Stevens played a multitude of roles for the LSU defense. Based on situational factors, he lined up anywhere from the edge, to linebacker, to the slot, to box safety, to single-high. Stevens can do a lot, and he has high-quality reps wearing all of those hats.
The LSU safety is best in the box, however. There, he has the physicality to disrupt and redirect routes. He also has enough lateral quickness to stay with his man after jabbing in press coverage.
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As a run defender, Stevens’ size makes him a tough challenge head-on, and he’s also a fairly solid tackler when he has to reach and keep his balance. His competitive toughness as a run defender helps him hold his ground on the edge, and he has enough closing speed to disengage and tackle in short areas.
Additionally, the box does well to maximize Stevens’ athletic traits. As we’ll get into shortly, Stevens isn’t the best athlete. Yet, in the box, where there isn’t as much ground to cover and where players don’t have as much room to accelerate, Stevens has the navigation skills through congestion, the modest athleticism, and the physicality to be a force.
What are the issues with Stevens?
As versatile as Stevens showed himself to be in college, some roles might not be as lucrative for him in the NFL. That projected dip in versatility derives from his athletic profile. He has good size and decent agility, and as his pro day numbers indicated — among them a 42-inch vertical jump and a 130-inch broad — he has a lot of athleticism locked inside his frame. However, he’s not overly explosive on tape, and he doesn’t have great top speed, either.
If Stevens can play to his maximum athletic potential, he can be very good. However, he didn’t always play to speed in college. He shows decent range on occasion, but he needs ample space to accelerate. In the NFL, where passes consistently travel with more velocity, he won’t have as much time to react.
Furthermore, Stevens’ reaction quickness itself isn’t always the best, either. The LSU safety can be late reading option plays, and he can also be a bit late pulling the trigger in coverage. For a player who hasn’t yet proven he can play to his traits, that’s not ideal. Stevens was exploited frequently in coverage in 2020, and unless he finds a role that caters to his strengths in the NFL, that may carry over to the next level.
JaCoby Stevens’ best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
JaCoby Stevens’ draft profile is polarizing. The LSU safety’s production at a blue-chip program goes for something. His ability to fulfill a multitude of different roles does as well. He’s also widely recognized as a solid leader for his team.
However, on the field, Stevens hasn’t been able to play up to his testing numbers, and he has some specific on-field limitations. Those limitations will only be emboldened at the NFL level. He’s a smart, multifaceted defender who can line up in plenty of different spots. But can he improve his marriage of athleticism and on-field pace at the next level? If he can, he can be great. If not, he may be limited.
Having said all this, there is a niche for Stevens in the NFL. As alluded to earlier, he should play primarily in the box. He’s a linebacker-sized safety who can play at both spots, just as he did at LSU. As a safety, he’s best closer to the line. There, he can roam around the backfield and jar opposing receivers in press coverage. At linebacker, he has a great size/speed combination. He also has enough athleticism and short-area burst to cover tight ends.
Which teams have a need for Stevens’ specific skill set?
Another good thing about Stevens’ profile is that his versatility gives him some schematic freedom. He’s a solid strong safety/linebacker hybrid, no matter the alignment. He also has the flexibility to rush the edge on blitzing downs and stay up front as extra run support. Teams like the Chargers, Jets, and Eagles could put Stevens’ talents to good use. On tape, he looks like an early Day 3 pick, but his testing numbers could drive him back into Rounds 2 and 3.
Stevens might not have the advertised versatility to a high degree in the NFL, but he can still line up at linebacker, in the slot, and up in the box. He fills his niche well, and he also has some special teams upside with his traits. Players like that have security wherever they go.
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