When the Los Angeles Rams made Van Jefferson their second round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, most draft pundits placed a mid-to-late third round grade on his draft value. It may have been because of a broken foot that kept him out of the NFL Combine or his rather pedestrian senior season numbers, 49 receptions for 657 yards, a 13.4 yard average and six touchdowns.
At pick #57, the Rams were not swayed by the the pundits, injury or statistics. LA General Manager Les Snead chose work ethic, technique and pedigree over national press trumpeting and gaudy college stats. Jefferson possessed the two most important wide receiver traits (arguably), good hands and the ability to create his own separation.
Jefferson stands 6’ 1 1/2” and weighs over 200 lbs., he has very good length with 33” arms and 78” wingspan. Because of injury, he did not record any workout drill or speed results before joining the Rams, but before he suffered the broken foot, he was the clocked as the fastest player at 2020 Senior Bowl.
Florida WR @VanJefferson12 couldn’t run the 40 at Combine (foot injury) but @ZebraTechnology had him as fastest player at the @seniorbowl with max speed of 21.05 mph, which is faster than Devin Duvernay (20.90/4.39), Denzel Mims (20.26/4.38), and Antonio Gibson (20.15/4.39). pic.twitter.com/t7Y8nRmonn— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) April 4, 2020
Where Jefferson excels is route running and creating separation. His father, Shawn Jefferson, has had a solid NFL career, first as a player and more recently as a wide receiver coach and assistant head coach. Unlike many incoming wideouts who rely on speed and freakish physical attributes to win matchups, the younger Jefferson uses a combination of moves, both subtle and aggressive, an ability to change speeds, and good hand fighting skills to win.
The Rams brought Jefferson along slowly, in 2020 he saw targets in 13 games as WR4 behind Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Josh Reynolds. His stats were modest, 19 catches on 31 targets for 220 yards and one touchdown. In 2021, LA parted ways with Reynolds and Jefferson responded to the promotion to WR3 with 50 grabs on 81 targets for 802 yards and six TD’s. A substantial percentage increase.
For numbers nuts, that’s a 153% increase in receptions, 265% in yards and 500% in TD’s. Even a conservative 25% production increase in 2022 would put Jefferson in the neighborhood of 65 catches, 1000 yards, and nine TD’s. Very solid numbers for WR3 and very plausible stats to project.
So, how do Jefferson’s first two seasons compare to some the best LA Rams wide receivers from the last 25 years and the man who was signed to play ahead of him, Allen Robinson.
Van Jefferson- 2020/21
69 rec, 1022 yds, 7 tds, 58.6% catch rate, and 1 fumble on 10.02% target rate
While Jefferson’s numbers are less than the other stars, his percentage of targets was substantially less. Extrapolating his numbers with a higher percentage of targets at his production level would really tighten the comparison up.
Cooper Kupp- 2017/18
102 rec, 1435 yds, 11 tds, 69.4% catch rate, and 4 fumbles on 13.72% target rate
Missed half of his second season or his numbers would be higher. Barring a catastrophic event, Kupp will be LA’s all-time leader in receptions and and yards. A bold statement on its face, considering the gold jackets in Rams history, but his current averages set the timeline to seven years, if not less.
Allen Robinson- 2014/15
128 catches, 1948 yds, 16 tds, 56.2% catch rate, and 2 fumbles on 20.27% target rate
Had huge sophomore year raising his numbers. A lot has been made about the quarterbacks he has played with, but Robinson has been WR1 Ince his second year on teams that threw the ball a lot. He’s been very good, but missed 29 regular season games over his career.
Robert Woods- 2013/14
105 catches, 1286 yds, 8 tds, 54.9% catch rate, and 1 fumble on 17.16% target rate
Woods had the bad luck to be be playing in Buffalo during some tough years. He was a cornerstone of the Rams turnaround, sharing the WR1 role and playing unselfishly, he will be missed. Looks like he might be the go-to guy for the Tennessee Titans in 2022.
Torry Holt- 1999/00
134 catches, 2423 yards, 12 tds, 56% catch rate, and 6 fumbles on 21.13% target rate
Finally got his Hall of Fame nod, why it took so long is unexplainable, He retired after 11 seasons and was 33 years old. His career numbers were amazing, averaging 84 catches, 1194 yards, and 7 TD’s. I don’t remember him being injured, probably could have been productive for 3-4 more seasons.
Issac Bruce- 1994/95
140 catches, 2053 yards, 16 tds, 53.8% catch rate, and 3 fumbles on 21.24% target rate
Started with the 4-12 1994 team and left after the 3-13 2007 debacle. In between, he experienced the Rams rags-to-riches-back-to-rags saga. In his first five years, the team went 26-53, then came the “Greatest Show on Turf” years, and finally, the Rams downward spiral that lasted until 2017. Bruce delivered during it all and has well-earned Super Bowl ring and a gold jacket to show for it.
Van Jefferson took a big leap of production in 2021. The 2nd year pro had over 800 yards & 6 TDs. His 4 plays of 40+ yards ranked 5th in the NFL and showed that the former 2nd round pick was a downfield threat. Don’t be surprised if Van takes another step in year 3. Hard worker! pic.twitter.com/APv76AQOWO— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) April 14, 2022
Do the numbers really mean anything?
Considering this piece is about Jefferson breaking out in 2022, it might have made more sense to compare VanJeff to top Rams receiver from the Jeff Fisher era, Kenny Britt and Brian Quick or from the Steve Spagnoulo years, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson or maybe even from the time of Scott Lineman ( the guy who drove away Bruce and Holt) days, Donnie Avery and Drew Bennett.
But, why not compare him to other stellar players, that should be the standard on a perennial Super Bowl contending team. With the Rams using three-receiver formations at such a high percentage, WR3 should be more than capable, he should be playmaker able to post strong numbers. Van Jefferson has work ethic, traits and now experience, to be that playmaker.