In year three, is Van Jefferson ready to breakout for the LA Rams?

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 rating on his draft value. Maybe it’s a broken foot that kept him out of the NFL Combine or his rather pedestrian senior season numbers, 49 receptions for 657 yards, averaging 13.4 yards and six touchdowns.

At pick No. 57, the Rams weren’t swayed by pundits, injuries or stats. LA general manager Les Snead chose work ethic, technique and pedigree over national press and showy college statistics. Jefferson had the two most important wide receiver traits (arguably), good hands and the ability to create his own separation.

Jefferson is 6′ 1 1/2″ tall and weighs over 200 lbs. He has a very good length with 33″ arms and a 78″ wingspan. Due to an injury he has not logged any exercise d training or any speed results before joining the Rams, but before breaking his foot he was clocked as the fastest player in the 2020 Senior Bowl.

Where Jefferson excels is in route running and creating separation. His father, Shawn Jefferson, had a solid career in the NFL, first as a player and more recently as a wide receivers coach and assistant head coach. Unlike many large upstarts who rely on speed and bizarre physical attributes to win matchups, young Jefferson uses a combination of moves, both subtle and aggressive, an ability to shift gears and good fighting skills at hand to win.

The Rams brought Jefferson in slowly, in 2020 he saw targets in 13 games as a WR4 behind Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Josh Reynolds. His stats were modest, 19 catches on 31 targets for 220 yards and a touchdown. In 2021, LA parted ways with Reynolds and Jefferson responded to promotion to WR3 with 50 grabs on 81 targets for 802 yards and six touchdowns. A substantial percentage increase.

For crazy numbers, that’s a 153% increase in receptions, 265% in yards, and 500% in TDs. Even a conservative production increase of 25% in 2022 would put Jefferson around 65 catches, 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. Very solid numbers for WR3 and very plausible stats to project.

So how does Jefferson’s first two seasons compare to some of the LA Rams’ best wide receivers of the last 25 years and the man who was signed to play in front 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 lower than other stars, his target percentage was significantly lower. Extrapolating his numbers with a higher percentage of targets at his production level would really tighten the comparison.

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 Los Angeles’ all-time leader in receptions and yards. A bold statement on the face of it, given the gold jackets in Rams history, but his current averages set the timeline at seven years, if not less.

Allen Robinson – 2014/15

128 catches, 1948 yards, 16 tds, 56.2% catch rate and 2 fumbles on 20.27% target rate

Had a huge sophomore year to boost his numbers. There’s been a lot of talk about the quarterbacks he’s played with, but Robinson has been WR1 since his second year on teams that threw the ball a lot. He was very good, but missed 29 regular season games during 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 misfortune of playing in Buffalo for some tough years. He was a cornerstone of the Rams turnaround, sharing the role of WR1 and playing selflessly, he will be missed. Looks like he could be the go-to guy for the Tennessee Titans in 2022.

Torry Holt – 1999/00

134 catches, 2,423 yards, 12 touchdowns, 56% catch rate and 6 fumbles on a target rate of 21.13%

Finally got his Hall of Fame nod, why it took so long is inexplicable, he retired after 11 seasons and was 33. His career numbers were incredible, averaging 84 catches, 1194 yards and 7 touchdowns. I don’t remember him being injured, he probably could have been productive for 3-4 more seasons.

Isaac Bruce – 1994/95

140 catches, 2,053 yards, 16 touchdowns, 53.8% catch rate and 3 fumbles on a target rate of 21.24%

Started with the 1994 4-12 team and left after the 2007 3-13 debacle. In between, he lived through the Rams rags-to-riches-back-to-rags saga. In its 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 it all and well-earned the Super Bowl ring and a gold jacket to show it off.

Do the numbers really mean anything?

Considering this piece is about Jefferson’s 2022 breakout, it might have made more sense to compare VanJeff to the Rams’ best receiver of the Jeff Fisher, Kenny Britt and Brian Quick era or the Steve Spagnoulo, Danny Amendola and Steve years. Brandon Gibson or maybe even from the days of Scott Lineman (the guy who hunted Bruce and Holt), Donnie Avery and Drew Bennett.

But, why not compare him to other stellar players, that should be the norm for a team in contention for the Super Bowl. With the Rams using three-receiver formations at such a high percentage, WR3 should be more than capable, he should be a playmaker capable of posting solid numbers. Van Jefferson has the work ethic, the traits and now the experience to be that playmaker.

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