Former NFL receiver Vanchi LaShawn Jefferson, better known as Shawn Jefferson, last played in 2003 with the Detroit Lions. The 34-year-old vet appeared in seven games, catching six passes for 46 yards, winding down his career just as the Lions were witnessing what they hoped would be the glimmering future of their franchise in a young receiver named Charles Rogers.
So there was Jefferson in 2003 with the Lions on the same roster as the talented second overall pick of the draft as a teammate. Three years and two more top-10 picks at receiver later, Jefferson was back in Detroit as an offensive assistant coach. Rogers was never healthy enough to have a career, Mike and Roy Williams were the latest receivers on the team to offer hope. But they wouldn’t last long and the Lions showed no hesitation in drafting Calvin Johnson second overall in 2007.
That year, Jefferson was moved to Assistant Wide Receivers Coach.
Many will remember Calvin Johnson as the “Megatron” phenom who was so physically gifted that coaching probably gets dismissed as some sort of waste of time, but that’s not the way that Johnson would tell it. Though he came out of Georgia Tech as arguably the greatest receiver prospect of all-time (in addition to a combine performance that would be in contention for “best ever,” Johnson had 1,202 yards and 15 touchdowns as a 21-year-old Yellowjacket catching passes from Reggie Ball and only one other receiver on the roster who caught more than nine passes), Johnson was going to the franchise that had botched Rogers, and both Williams’ for the most part.
Jefferson was determined as anyone to make sure that did not happen and can you imagine the pressure of becoming a receivers coach on the team that just drafted the receiver prospect of all receiver prospects? That didn’t deter Jefferson and in an interview with Sports Illustrated last September, Megatron called him the best receivers coach “I’ve seen in the league.”
Ah, but Johnson was young. He believed. His next position coach, Shawn Jefferson, asked if he wanted to be truly great, and Johnson said yes, and so Jefferson coached the hell out of him. Johnson calls Jefferson the best receivers coach “I’ve seen in the league.” In 2012, Jefferson helped Johnson break Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yards record, with 1,964.
That offseason coach Jim Schwartz decided not to renew Jefferson’s contract. “Maybe there’s egos that play [into it],” Johnson says. “I think that was part of it.”
Not his best receivers coach. The best receivers coach that he knows of.
Jefferson dropped the “assistant” label on his receivers coach job in 2008 and held that job until 2012. He coached Johnson for six seasons, helping him get two first team All-Pro nods and an NFL-record 1,964 yards in 2012. He also coached Nate Burleson for three seasons and nearly even helped Titus Young have a career if not for other factors.
Van Jefferson talking about going to Lions practices when he was in HS and playing catch with Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson. His dad was the Lions WR coach and former WR Shawn Jefferson pic.twitter.com/BMlEYrNWU5— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) February 25, 2020
After his contract wasn’t renewed, Jefferson went to the Tennessee Titans and was there from 2013-2015. In his first season, Kendall Wright posted his only 1,000-yard campaign, catching 94 passes for 1,079 yards, and veteran Nate Washington had 58 for 919. With Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB. The team went 5-27 over the next two seasons and many people were fired, an issue that Jefferson also had in Detroit, as you can imagine. Which is an issue of perhaps winding up in bad situations, not a fault of his own necessarily.
Jefferson next coached receivers for the Miami Dolphins from 2016-2018, jumping on with Adam Gase, a colleague of his with the Lions for several years. That gave him two years with Jarvis Landry, who led the NFL in receptions in 2017 and then was given the franchise tag before being traded to the Cleveland Browns. He also caoched DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and late stage Danny Amendola.
As you can imagine, Jefferson then went to the New York Jets along with Gase and he’s been promoted to assistant head coach as well as coaching receivers. That included Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder, both of whom may have out-performed the expectations of any receiver in that terrible offense last season.
But I would say that Vanchi “Shawn” Jefferson comes out looking pretty well from his career, even if the teams have rarely had overall success. I would also that makes his son Van Jefferson look pretty good too, as this guy has been coaching him how to play receiver for his entire life.
From a 2016 article while Van Jefferson was still at Ole Miss, Shawn Jefferson talked about his tutelage of Van:
Van Jefferson grew up watching wide receivers such as Nate Burleson, Calvin Johnson and Titus Young get coached in the NFL by his father, Shawn Jefferson. It wasn’t long until Van began learning the same techniques and completing the same drills.
Welcome to the life of having a 13-year NFL veteran and 12-year NFL coach as your father.
“The same way I coached those guys, Van got the same kind of coaching,” said Shawn, now the wide receivers coach for the Miami Dolphins. “There was no sugarcoating it with Van.
“Just like I was demanding with them, I was probably even more demanding with Van once I saw he was into it, once I saw that he had a pretty good skill set. He was definitely born into it.”
Van’s advanced knowledge of the game leading into Ole Miss will probably be mirrored with his introduction to the NFL by LA Rams head coach Sean McVay and his assistants. From that Clarion Ledger story, Ole Miss coaches could see that he was a little ahead of other recruits immediately:
“I think he probably understood schemes better than most and route-running obviously,” offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. “But we do so much stuff than probably what he’s used to. It’s a little different, but he definitely came in ahead of most freshmen.
“He knows the scheme. The thing is there’s two levels. First, you’ve got to learn the plays. Then you have to learn, OK, I know this is what I’m running but know how do I run it versus this defense, versus this defense. And a lot of guys are still at that point.”
And Van again...
“Being around those NFL guys, learning how they work and what they do was helpful to me,” Van said. “To have a dad teaching you that kind of stuff is very helpful to come into college and play at the SEC level. Learning from him was very helpful to me.”
As you may know, that knowledge didn’t necessarily help him at Ole Miss as much as he would have liked and even if he transferred to Florida in 2018 for a number of other reasons (Ole Miss was being hit with sanctions, for one), we can safely assume that any receiver would like to be more productive than 450-550 yards and a couple of touchdowns each year. In two seasons at Florida, Jefferson wasn’t on national leaderboards (1,160 yards and 12 touchdowns over two full seasons) but he was his team’s best receiver and it was an improvement from Ole Miss. A big improvement.
That, combined with his athletic gifts, helped Van Jefferson get drafted 57th overall by the Rams last weekend. He now gets to play alongside Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods and others and be coached by McVay, who has helped develop Kupp, Woods, and others to success alongside his own assistants.
In fact, his first NFL receivers coach will be Eric Yarber, who has a slight connection to the elder Jefferson.
In 2003, Yarber was the wide receivers coach for the San Francisco 49ers and in Week 5, they faced the Lions. In that game, rookie Charles Rogers caught four passes for 51 yards, but it would prove to be his last catch for a long time: he broke his clavicle in practice the following week and would be out for the season. He broke it again the following year and wouldn’t return to catch a pass in a game again until the 2005 opener. So Yarber coached against Rogers in what would be the last real game of Charles Rogers before the injury that ended his career. It was probably a difficult moment for Shawn Jefferson too, as he was signed in 2003 partly to help Rogers along, as he was already seen as a good coach even when he was still a player.
He should also be familiar with Assistant Wide Receivers coach Zac Robinson, as Robinson was a quarterback on the Lions in 2010.
How much all of this coaching, tutelage, mentors, and being around people like Calvin Johnson and Shawn Jefferson really help remains to be seen of course. Van Jefferson is a second round rookie so new that he probably hasn’t even received a contract to sign yet. I would imagine that almost every NFL player who ever was probably had kids at some point. Most of those never come close to the league.
But if Shawn Jefferson is a receivers coach of another caliber — as Johnson claims — then at the very least it seems like an edge up for Van Jefferson during what could continue to be a tumultuous offseason for rookies and veterans alike.