Whether it was a foot injury that held him out of the NFL combine or substandard numbers during his final campaign at Florida, when it was time for the Los Angeles Rams’ pick at 57th overall in 2020, wide receiver Van Jefferson wasn’t the name many expected to hear come off the board. A standout at the Senior Bowl prior to breaking his foot and the fastest wideout clocked during his time in Mobile, year three could see Jefferson blossom into a major offensive weapon for the defending Super Bowl-winning Rams.
A wiry pass-catcher whose 78-inch wingspan presents Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford with a vast catching radius to throw into, with the departures of Robert Woods and Odell Beckham Jr. this offseason, Jefferson looks to be next up within Sean McVay’s high-octane aerial attack. While he appeared in 16 games during his rookie season, Jefferson was an afterthought in the Rams’ passing game working behind Josh Reynolds on the depth chart. 31 targets resulted in 19 receptions for 220 yards and a touchdown.
While the numbers failed to jump out in comparison to some of the highest drafted wideouts in 2020, Jefferson waited his turn and 2021 looked to be just an appetizer to what should be a healthy target share this fall.
A starter in all 21 games (including playoffs) last season, Jefferson’s 802 yards are numbers that must be put into perspective. Working behind triple crown winner Cooper Kupp, Woods (for nine games), and Beckham—who joined in Week 10—Jefferson remained a target hog for Stafford. And while Kupp returns and Woods’ trade to Tennessee made room for the team to sign disgruntled former Bears wideout Allen Robinson, there’s little reason not to believe Jefferson could rise above Robinson with multiple years of work under McVay’s tutelage and success to boot in his first two NFL seasons as an early day-two selection.
The son of Shawn Jefferson, who spent thirteen seasons in the NFL—and is the current wide receivers coach for the Arizona Cardinals—at 6-foot-1, 200-pounds, Van makes his money as a separation specialist on the perimeter. While Los Angeles’ three core wideouts rank among the league’s best, what makes Jefferson’s performance ceiling so intriguing in 2022 is the limited depth the Rams’ offense has behind its trio of high-level aerial threats—he has to produce. Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek, Brandon Powell, those names aren’t going to keep any defenses up late at night which will force Jefferson into what should be an uptick in attention from both his uber-talented signal-caller and opposing secondaries.
A 2021 campaign that saw a 153% increase in receptions, 265% in yards, and 500% in touchdowns from the year prior, eclipsing the 1,000-yard plateau for the first time in his career could help push the Rams’ offense over the top if they look to repeat as champs. With all the attention on Kupp and Robinson, holstering Jefferson will be an impossible task for McVay as another increase in production from his third-year talent could further lift Los Angeles’ performance ceiling within a top-heavy NFC.
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