The Senior Bowl has come and gone, which means the draft process is heating up more and more as each day goes by. Soon, the invites to the 2020 NFL Combine will be announced and teams will make plans to be Indy to watch hundreds of prospects compete in a variety of drills to test their athleticism.
One player that is already having a successful draft process is Florida Gators wide receiver Van Jefferson. Jefferson, a former Ole Miss wideout before transferring to the Gators, has been a productive player in college football’s toughest conference throughout his career.
The former four-star prospect has done everything from be a reliable possession receiver amidst a deep receivers room to being “the man” on a team competing for the SEC East title. Jefferson began his career with Ole Miss, playing alongside receivers A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf prior to making the move to Gainseville when coach Hugh Freeze was dismissed.
Ole Miss soph WR Van Jefferson is nice. 6'2"/192lbs. pic.twitter.com/OuM1jUfYcj— Jared Stanger (@JaredStanger) July 20, 2017
With the Rebels, Jefferson made an impact by catching 91 passes for 999 yards and four touchdowns through two seasons. That was part of a receivers unit that featured three other NFL players!
Ole Miss really had DK Metcalf, AJ Brown, Damarkus Lodge, and Van Jefferson in the same receiving group.— Carter Donnick (@CDonnick3) January 22, 2020
Playing in a run-heavy offense at Florida, the talented pass-catcher from the state of Tennessee hauled in 84 catches for 1,160 yards and 12 touchdowns. The son of former NFL wideout Shawn Jefferson, he proved to be a critical factor for Dan Mullen’s first two Gators squads, as Florida won ten games in both seasons.
Jefferson is not the flashiest player at the position, but he was still able to average over 12 yards per reception while grabbing a total of 175 balls over his four-year career in two different offensive systems. That isn’t exactly easy to do.
Van Jefferson is a battle-tested player that has been in his fair share of big-time games and atmospheres. Not only that, but he has produced in said environments.
- 8 catches, 73 yards, 2 TDs vs. LSU (2019)
- 6 catches, 129 yards vs. Virginia (2019, Orange Bowl)
- 4 catches, 92 yards, 1 TD vs. Florida State (2018)
- 4 catches, 64 yards vs. Michigan (2018, Peach Bowl)
- 8 catches, 89 yards vs. Auburn (2017)
- 10 catches, 94 yards vs. Cal (2017)
- 6 catches, 91 yards vs. Alabama (2016)
- 4 catches, 43 yards, 1 TD vs LSU (2016)
What makes Jefferson an intriguing NFL Draft prospect? Let’s take a look at what the productive wideout does well.
Perhaps Jefferson’s best trait in regards to attracting scouts is his route-running ability. Guys like Jerry Jeudy get a lot of the hype in this category, but the Florida Gators product is really impressive in his own right.
Jefferson uses a quick release, along with fluid hips, to create separation off the line. He does this so well that is difficult for the defensive back to stay with him. Check out this clip from the Senior Bowl practices:
Van Jefferson is so fluid and flexible as a route runner. Keeping his pads down, selling each step with his upper body and staying explosive by driving off his in-steps. Clinic tape. pic.twitter.com/iv5D2O1CLK— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 24, 2020
Practice is one thing, but can he do it in a game? Yes, he can. Jefferson was a nightmare for defenders to stay with, and he often burned who ever was lined up in front of him — not necessarily with speed, but with his route-running. Here, he leaves the FSU defensive back in the dust:
Look at what Van Jefferson's quick feet allow him to do to this FSU DB with a quick stutter step. pic.twitter.com/kMGd9WhAd2— Glenn Naughton (@AceFan23) January 28, 2020
Jefferson consistently impressed down in Mobile with his ability to sell his routes, sink his hips, and create separation, something that we know the Cowboys have liked.
Van Jefferson showed out in one-on-one’s this week.— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 25, 2020
Draft board riser
After the catch
Another aspect of Jefferson’s game that is attractive is his ability to hurt defenses after the catch. While not the dangerous prospect that Henry Ruggs is, Jefferson has the ability to get up field and get yards after securing the catch:
Van Jefferson immediately makes Virginia pay for the turnover and takes the ball 53 yards into Cavalier territory pic.twitter.com/TVahVzkto0— libgator (@lib_gator) December 31, 2019
Comes to play in big games
We listed the stats earlier in the article, but it needs to be said: Jefferson turns it on under the bright lights. While that not be a trait that can be tested at the combine, I like when players come to perform against the best teams on their schedule. Jefferson did that consistently during his career.
Under pressure Kyle Trask delivers the ball only where Van Jefferson can go get it. Touchdown Gators pic.twitter.com/pys7HDXC27— Inside The 5 (@InsideThe5) November 2, 2019
#Gators WR Van Jefferson had an impressive performance vs #LSU this fall - 8 Rec, 73 Yards, 2 TD.— Steve Frederick (@_SteveFrederick) January 4, 2020
He really popped when matched up with Consensus All-American DB Derek Stingley Jr.
That drive to start the 2nd half - 4 Rec, 51 Yards, TD.
Jefferson vs Stingley Cut-Up ⬇️: pic.twitter.com/uxiqBc99yK
Van Jefferson is not a perfect prospect by any means — he will not challenge for the fastest 40, he turns 24 before his first professional game, and his raw athleticism will not wow you, but he is a solid player that simply produces.
The Cowboys have a decision to make with Amari Cooper. Many expect the franchise to re-sign their star wideout, but it would not be completely shocking to see the team be hesitant to give Cooper a long-term deal. Even still, with Randall Cobb hitting free agency and a lot of unknown behind Coop and Michael Gallup, it would be smart to add a receiver through this year’s loaded class.
Jefferson’s route-running and competitiveness give him a chance to become a solid NFL wide receiver. Keep an eye on the former Ole Miss and Florida wideout through the draft cycle.