The Fantasy Football Industry Is Down on Van Jefferson: But Should They Be?
Van Jefferson (LAR) was drafted in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft only a few short weeks after the team shipped Brandin Cooks (LAR) out of town. By selecting Jefferson with the 57th pick of the draft, which coincidentally was the pick the Rams received in the deal with the Texans, it sure seems like the team views him as the direct replacement.
Still, the fantasy community as a whole does not appear to be overly enthused about Jefferson, which has been consistently been ranked outside of analyst’s top 30 rookie rankings. Fellow RotoExperts writer Davis Mattek had Jefferson outside his top three tiers in pre-draft rankings and listed him the 42nd overall fantasy prospect. Part of that likely had to do with Jefferson’s foot injury which was discovered at the combine and required surgery. He is expected to be fine for the start of the 2020 season but that, combined with the lack of production in college (which could have been partially foot-related), has created a shadow of doubt.
How should fantasy owners feel about Jefferson? Let’s take a look:
Why Was the College Production So Poor?
According to Graham Barfield on Twitter, Jefferson saw an accurate pass on just 53-percent of his college targets, which, by comparison, was significantly lower than the likes of Justin Jefferson (MIN), CeeDee Lamb (DAL) and Jerry Jeudy (DEN) to name a few. Furthermore, Jefferson averaged just 13.9 yards per reception, which ranks in the 38th percentile of professional receivers. He garnered a low target share (16.8-percent) and only scored 12 touchdowns (TDs) in his final two seasons combined (or less than someone like K.J. Hamler (DEN) scored in his final season of college alone). As if that were not enough, Jefferrson only posted just four receptions of 20-plus yards versus competition in the SEC since the start of 2018. None of these numbers warrant enthusiasm but, to be fair, Jefferson is a different sort of receiver than most of those mentioned with qualities most similar to Hamler.
Jefferson is a player who relies on yardage after the catch and is an agility-based receiver at 6’1”, 200 lbs. As noted by Connor O’Gara on Twitter, he is a superb route runner, so having a pro-quality quarterback (QB) should certainly help him excel. Additionally, he is a system receiver who needs the pieces around him to succeed but, at Florida, he was one of the top two pass-catchers in an offense that averaged just the 34th most points per game in 2019. It is possible the offense was not a fit and the foot slowed him down but, undoubtedly, the lack of production is a bit of a red flag.
Rams System Fit For Van Jefferson
Luckily for Jefferson, he landed in a system where he is not the main show in town nor is he even expected to be the second or third show in the passing game in the early-going. Although the Rams traded Cooks prior the draft, Cooper Kupp (LAR), Robert Woods (LAR) and Tyler Higbee (LAR) are options one, two, and three in the passing game, so Jefferson only needs to act as a complementary option. Like the 49ers, the Rams are a system built on yards after the catch, as Woods and Kupp both managed over 530 yards after the catch last season. Woods’ 576 yards after the catch ranked seventh amongst all players and Kupp’s 538 ranked 11th. A system built on route running and the player excelling after the catch is a match made in heaven for Jefferson despite the fact that Goff is not the most accurate of QBs either (23rd out 35 qualified QBs in terms of on-target percentage a season ago).
Jefferson will immediately have a chance to compete for a starting receiver role (on a team that uses amongst the most three WR sets in the league) against Josh Reynolds (LAR). Naturally, Reynolds holds the edge in terms of experience, as he has had to fill in at WR3 for the Rams whenever a receiver has been injured over the course of the past two years. If the team had faith in him, it is unlikely they would have used a second-round pick on a receiver after Cooks departed, so logic favors Jefferson. Over the course of his young career, Reynolds has only posted a 50.8-percent catch rate, although that is unfair to analyze in itself. Of 23 catchable passes last year, Reynolds caught 21 of them and dropped the other two, which is not so bad (8.7-percent drop rate). By comparison, Woods dropped just 2.2-percent of his catchable targets and Kupp dropped 3.1-percent last year, so Reynolds did stick out like a sore thumb on his own team.
Van Jefferson Fantasy Football Outlook
Jefferson is a risky player with legitimate potential downside but the Rams have a system that fits and an immediate opening where he can slot right in. Per Player Profiler, the closest comparable player to Jefferson is Riley Ridley (CHI), but NFL Reporter Daniel Jeremiah thinks Cooper Kupp is more accurate. Fantasy owners will need to decide where they stand on the skill set because the opportunity is evident and he likely will be given every chance to succeed. In some early rookie dynasty drafts, Jefferson has slipped, but it should be noted Kupp’s contract is up after 2020, and if not extended, the opportunity will only expand for the youngster. Whereas Davis Mattek had Jefferson ranked outside the top 40 prospects prior to the draft, he should be considered a third round pick in 12-team rookie drafts moving forward as a true risk/reward proposition.