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2020 NFL Draft Prospect WR Van Jefferson

A smooth route runner with solid hands

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Florida v Michigan

When you are a young man you learn things from your role models. My role model was my father. He was a fireman and a butcher. I can’t carve a turkey or even cut a London broil well, but I know what to look for at the meat counter of my grocery store. I always find the most tender steaks because I worked in a butcher shop as a teenager.

My dad was also a shift captain at his work, and he was also the fire chief of my town’s volunteer fire department. Most firemen back when I was young had two professions because the job didn’t pay like it does today. I literally grew up in a firehouse and always thought all fathers’ work clothes smelled like smoke. That is what all I was used to.

Van Jefferson’s father (Shawn Jefferson) was a professional as well, a professional wide receiver who played in the NFL for 13 years and now has coached the same position for 15 years. In fact Shawn Jefferson is the assistant head coach and wide receivers coach of the New York Jets.

I was a big fan of Shawn Jefferson’s back in the 90s. He was a complementary receiver playing with 5 time Pro Bowl WR Anthony Miller and Tony Martin. Jefferson always made the big catch at the right time. He was a technician as a player, smooth in and out of breaks. I had just begun scouting back then and appreciated the preciseness with which he played the game.

Shawn Jefferson was a ninth round selection in the 1991 Draft out of UCF who had 470 receptions for over 7,000 yards playing for 4 different teams. In his 15 years of coaching he has always gotten more out of his players than you would expect.

His son Van obviously watched and listened well because like his father he is a precise route runner and a quality technician. Only Jerry Jeudy (in my estimation) runs better routes than Van Jefferson in the 2020 Draft class. That is only because Jeudy has much quicker feet than Jefferson, not better technical acuity.

Van Jefferson is also a smart kid. He redshirted his first year at the University of Mississippi and was able to graduate only two years later. Since he had graduated, he was able to transfer to the University of Florida for his final two years of eligibility without sitting out a year per NCAA rules.

Van (Vanchii his real name) Jefferson is not an overly big kid (6’ 1 1/2” 200 lbs) or fast 4.56/40) so he is not going to outmuscle or run by NFL cornerbacks. He is comparable to JuJu Smith-Schuster in size and physical attributes. They win with guile not physicality.

Let’s look at what Van Jefferson brings with his skill set. This is a practice session with Jefferson is running a comeback route inside the numbers to the sideline.

The object of this is to get the corner to think you are trying to run by him. In doing so you are trying to get the corner to flip his hips to turn and run with you. This is a very precise route that Jefferson runs with every step having a purpose. This a nuanced type of comeback route. Jefferson slows as he approaches his defender then speeds up. Watch this clip.

The corner is playing off Jefferson’s inside shoulder not allowing him to cross his face across the field. Jefferson runs to the correct depth just outside the numbers and takes three purposeful steps. Notice that Jefferson doesn’t start his break until after the corner flips his hips. The three steps he takes are plant, pivot, and drive;. His first step is the plant step that he takes with his left leg. At the same time he drops his hips, you can see him go down slightly. This lowers his center of gravity which gives him solid balance so he can use the right leg to pivot and then the left leg to drive out of the break explosively to gain the needed separation. This is all timing as the ball is already in the air before he drives out of the break. Now he is wide open for a first down reception. This is textbook precision he uses which only a handful of receivers in the NFL can replicate. Jefferson is not overtly fast, but you can see the technical skill gets him wide open, speed can be overrated.

This clip is a TD where Jefferson uses his favorite separation technique to get open. This is called the diamond technique by receivers, and Jefferson runs it beautifully.

The idea here is to make the DB think you are trying to get on top of him to make it to the corner of the end zone for a pass on a fade route. The key here is to come off the ball on a 45 degree angle but not get close enough to the DB that he can get his hands on you and hold you. See how the DB has opened his hips to the outside? Once he does this he can never recover to stop you from going inside unless he holds you or you slip or are incredibly slow on your break. The third step is your plant and drive foot on the cutback as you cross the DB’s face then give your QB a big target to hit. Again this route is run to perfection, and the play results in a TD.

Next is the same play run to the opposite side of the formation.

Like I said, there is little the DB can do to prevent this. He does in fact interfere with Jefferson on the play, but it makes no difference as he still scores.

You could say that Jefferson works his craft like a surgeon. Some surgery is very precise like brain surgery. Some is exploratory surgery. You don’t know how to proceed until you get there. You might postulate that receivers have the same dilemma as the exploratory surgeon. Defenses always love to disguise coverages or change formations just before the snap. A receiver may have to improvise during his route. This next clip is one of those scenarios.

Jefferson is being covered by a safety, Hamsah Nasirildeen, who is very athletic but is not skilled in man to man cover situations. When approaching the safety Jefferson can see his footwork is a mess. He is in poor position to cover anybody. Jefferson doesn’t overthink the situation. He gives a stop and head bob to the left then keeps going down the field as the safety trips over his own feet. The safety could not have played this any worse as Jefferson is given a gift TD.

This next clip the corner is playing in off coverage on a pattern we used to call a flag route. Jefferson is outside but only at the numbers, not real wide toward the sideline. This gives him more room to maneuver which is more area the corner has to defend.

With Jefferson moving right at the snap, the corner has to assume he is headed towards the sideline. As Jefferson gets the corner to move to his left, Jefferson then moves back to his left which forces a move back the opposite way by the corner. Now Jefferson switches back again to the right, headed to the back corner of the end zone. The corner has now cork-screwed himself and lost touch with Jefferson who is now well behind him.

Without great speed or any eye popping cuts Jefferson is now behind the defensive back who started 10 yards away from him to begin the play. Jefferson has to slow up for the throw that almost get the DB back into the play.

This next play is a variation of the diamond release (or diamond cut as I call it) against Michigan. Usually the diamond release is used on the line of scrimmage against man coverage. You want your defender close enough to feel threatened by your release.If he doesn’t think you are headed by him he will just shuffle his feet instead of flipping the hips.

You can see defensive back Tyree Kinnel is 4 yards away from Jefferson at the snap. Even though Jefferson tries to entice him to turn and run to his right it doesn’t work. Corners are instructed to slide their feet over in coverage just like Kinnel is doing to avoid giving up the inside where he has no help. From a closer view you can see the action better.

Jefferson is still able to jump inside mainly because Kinnel is flat footed and looking into the backfield instead of getting his hands on Jefferson Once Jefferson is by him all that Kinnel can do is keep him from scoring on the play. Though his diamond release was not as effective as planned, the quickness and guile of Jefferson was plenty to make a big play.

This next clip is of Jefferson while he was at the University of Mississippi. This is a 32 yard TD catch that shows you don’t have to have superior speed to get behind a CB for a long gain. Quality cuts and nuanced moves are undervalued in many cases by fans and the media. They are not undervalued by other players and coaches.

This was an out and up play out of the slot with the safeties in the middle of the field for some reason. This was a huge play on the road. This play late in the game sparked the team in a 1 point win.

On this next play against Alabama DB Shyheim Carter is playing off Jefferson’s outside shoulder to try and force him inside where he has help from DB Hootie Jones. Carter is so sure he has his man headed inside that he flips his hips when Jefferson makes a shoulder fake and a half step to his left.

But Jefferson is not headed inside as he cuts back outside. This makes Carter do a full pirouette to get back to on track in coverage. The move gives Jefferson just enough room to haul in the 45 yard pass to keep his team in the game. Players like Jefferson can watch the feet of their opponents to find a weakness they can exploit. Sometimes it doesn’t take a lot to find a huge advantage when you are running full speed. It is not unlike a QB reading coverage and changing the play except WRs do it on the fly.

This last clip is of a 20 yard TD against Florida State while he was at Ole Miss. This is another minor shoulder fake that gains him an advantage. He has another technique that he used a couple of times already. It is just hard to see from these sideline views.

Watch Jefferson as he fights to get over the top of his man. Once he clears him he doesn’t just run to the sideline. He comes back to put the defender between the QB and himself. He tried to do the same thing against the Michigan defender and against the Texas A&M defender. This technique is called “stacking the defender” as the defender cannot affect the play unless he interferes with the receiver. As long as the QB puts the ball over his shoulder the DB is defenseless to stop a TD.

This has worked as Jefferson has drawn 11 penalties since 2018 including 3 interference calls against Auburn in 2019. This is why he fight so hard to get in the correct position, Those penalty yards are hidden production by a receiver caused by using the proper technique not by dumb luck.

Everything Van Jefferson does as a receiver is well thought out. He scans the field like a human computer to decipher the best technique to use against the coverage in front of him. He is a thinking man’s type of receiver with a passion for attention to detail. Anything to give himself that tiny advantage could make all the difference.

Jefferson is not going to be a #1 NFL receiver. He is likely going to be a great #3 receiver on a winning team because he will devour the nickel corner he goes against. Jefferson reminds me of another Florida receiver from back in the early 2000s. Jabar Gaffney had 4.56/40 speed. He played 11 years in the NFL and had 447 receptions for almost 5,700 yards and 24 TDs. He played in the days when DB were allowed to get away with a lot more than they are today.

Sadly for Jefferson it was revealed at the NFL Combine that he had a Jones fracture in his foot and would need surgery to correct it. A Jones fracture is a break between the base and middle part of the foot’s 5th metatarsal. He will be sidelined between 6 to 8 weeks so he would not be able to go through the rookie orientation OTAs, but if he were to be drafted by the Jets with his dad as the WR coach it would not be a problem.

Jefferson is a little older than most college seniors as he will turn 24 sometime during training camp. He has no other red flags as a prospect and is said to be a player of good character and a solid teammate.

Many in the Draft community had Van Jefferson being picked somewhere around the mid 2nd round. With the injury he has had and the fact he will not be able to work out before the draft he may slide into the 3rd round. It is good news to Jets fans who might like Jefferson as a prospect.

That is what i think.

What do you think?