One could say Van Jefferson, the newest addition to the Rams’ as a wide receiver, was born to play football. His father, Shawn Jefferson, is a former NFL receiver who played for 13 years and he now coaches for the New York Jets. Van takes pride in the skills his father introduced to him during his childhood including, “hard work, dropping your weight, getting out of cuts…just being an all-around receiver,” Jefferson said.
People have continued to make assumptions that Jefferson’s path to the NFL was somehow easier due to his lineage. A reporter even asked how he was able to ask for his father’s advice without getting “insider information.”
“I experienced that all throughout highschool…being under my dad’s shadow,” Jefferson said. However, as we all know – hard work beats talent. And Jefferson has not allowed his father’s success to overshadow his own ongoing journey of hard work. Playing in the NFL has been a “lifelong dream” of Van’s and he himself made that happen.
Jefferson was drafted by the Rams in the second round as the 57th pick overall. His recent foot injury made his NFL aspirations less certain. He mentioned that he turned to faith to reassure himself during this time by “praying to god and just practic[ing] patience man…everything happens for a reason.” He trained by running all the way up until someone ordered him to visit the medical tent for an MRI and an X-ray. That’s when he discovered a fracture in his foot which required surgery in early March of this year.
But nothing can stop Jefferson. By late April he was already back on the jogging trail in a medical boot. This is a player who can train through pain and still recover quickly. Another source of Van’s calmness is his father. “He’ll just…tell me you know don’t worry about it, everything’s going to work out the way it’s supposed to,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson grew up in Brentwood, Tennessee and was a star on the field from the beginning. As a junior at Ravenwood high school he totaled 87 catches for 1,251 yards and 14 TDs. Major recruiting networks rated him as a four-star recruit. His collegiate football career began when he signed with Ole Miss. There, from 2016-2017 he received a solid 999 yards and rushed 40 yards, but the school just wasn’t the right fit for him.
For Jefferson’s last two collegiate football seasons he transferred to Florida State, making a huge impact on the team. He started for all 13 games during both his junior and senior seasons at Florida. Under the Gators he competed in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Physicality-wise “The closest thing to the NFL is the SEC,” Jefferson said. This gives him an edge by preparing him to compete in the big leagues.
He also played against another standout Rams’ 2020 draftee: Cam Akers. “He’d just break out huge runs…I’m excited to be on the same side as him,” Jefferson said while praising his new teammate.
As a Gator, Jefferson’s stats soared. He received 1,160 yards and rushed 7 yards. “I just felt like when I got to Florida my game excelled more…I learned a lot of different techniques,” he explained. The numbers are objective evidence that Jefferson’s hard work achieves great results.
When it came to the 2020 NFL draft, this season showed one of the deepest classes of wide receivers yet. Jefferson was not fazed. “I consider myself one of the top guys in this class,” he stated. Although his humility acknowledged, “[there’s] a lot of great receivers that got to hear their names called…I’m just here to be the best that I can be.”
During the draft, Jefferson was not even sure if the Rams were interested in him. “So many other teams were reaching out…I didn’t have a facetime meeting with them,” Jefferson said.
Despite not having as many face-to-screen interactions, Jefferson’s excitement matched the energy of the Rams’ coaching staff as they welcomed him onto the team. “When I got that phone call I was so happy,” he said. “I can’t wait to get out there.”
Even Les Snead, the Rams’ general manager, was stoked about the pick as he said Jefferson “stood out” to him at the Senior Bowl in January of this year where he was proven to be the fastest receiver in the game. Zebra Technology clocked his speed at 21.05 miles per hour. He was the only receiver in the game to break the 21 mph barrier. Speed is clearly one of Jefferson’s strengths.
Head coach, Sean McVay, was particularly excited to work with Jefferson. “He plays like a coach’s kid that’s been around NFL caliber players….he just understands the nuances of the game,” McVay commented.
With the Rams’ star quarterback, Jared Goff, being known for passing the ball more than rushing it, Jefferson’s speed will play a critical role in McVay’s plays. To put it in perspective, in 2019 Goff passed for 4,638 yards and only rushed 40 yards. He will need a teammate to separate and get to the ball — fast.
Jefferson’s versatility is another strength that makes him such a great asset for the Rams. Over his collegiate career he has played all three positions of a wide receiver. McVay also agreed, “Van really provides that opportunity to play all three spots. He’s a really polished route runner.”
On top of that, McVay is known for his creative plays that utilize his receivers in many different positions. With this in mind, Jefferson knew that when the Ram’s called him that the “offer was gold,” he said.
A weakness that Jefferson has had to overcome is his size. Standing at 6’ 1”and 200 pounds he is on the slimmer side of NFL players and he might not fare well if the defensive backs are able to catch up to him and tackle him. So far he has had to depend on his speed to separate from the other team, but sooner or later someone is bound to catch up to him.
When it comes to joining other Rams receivers, Jefferson’s humility and hunger for knowledge is apparent. “I just wanna learn from those guys, pick their brains…so I can implement that into my game. I’m going in learning from two great guys,” he said.
The two players Jefferson is reffering to are Cooper Kupp, drafted in 2017, and Robert Woods, traded to the Rams in 2017. The experience of these two receivers is likely to fuel Jefferson and provide him with the necessary knowledge to continue to develop his skills on the field.
McVay and Snead also addressed the significant impact any one of these singular players has on the entire team. “Our special teams coach really really was jacked about them, so whatever role they carve out on our team to play offense or defense…they’re definitely helping on the other phase,” McVay explained.
This year, Jefferson will compete against his father’s team for the first time. Despite this, there’s no ill will between the two. “He’s just proud of me, you know the player I’ve become, the man I’ve become and I love my dad,” he said with gratitude.
Jefferson is eager to get on the field and continue to prove himself in his own right. Competing in the NFL will allow him to really distinguish himself from his father’s shadow and “create [his] own name,” he said.
At his core, Jefferson is a team player who is determined to work hard and learn from his teammates. He declared, “I’m gonna go in, do what I have to do, keep my head down, go hard, work and let the results take care of themselves.”