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Hard work behind the scenes paying off for Van Jefferson in second NFL season

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Van Jefferson had a relatively quiet rookie season, but the Rams wide receiver's work ethic remained unchanged in the spoke of his role.

That same mindset has set him up for success and allowed him to be ready to capitalize on an expanded role in his second NFL season.

"It's been good," Jefferson said Monday. "I'm just taking it one day at a time. I'm just perfecting my craft and being the best player I can be, learning from the older guys, and just gaining the trust of my coaches and (quarterback) Matt (Stafford). That's what I try to do every day, just come in and be the best I can be, and everything else will take care of itself."

In the Rams' 28-19 win over the Lions last week, Jefferson caught his third touchdown of the season and also played a key role in Kupp's first of the game.

Through seven weeks, those three touchdowns have already eclipsed the one he had in his first season. With 304 receiving yards, he's outproduced his rookie season mark in that category by 84.

And when it came to earning the necessary trust that has undoubtedly played a part in him seeing the field more, it didn't take long for him to do so.

"Man, Van is special. He has great routes, great speed, great hands, but probably what people don't see is his work ethic, too, how serious he takes the game," Rams 2020 draft classmate and safety Jordan Fuller said. "I know he basically in his dad, he's had a great coach like his whole entire life. And I mean, it really shows. He's very polished, like since the first day we stepped foot in the facility, he was one of the more polished receivers on the scene. That's just a testament to him and his hard work and how serious he takes it. And the sky's the limit for him. I mean, if he keeps at it, I'll be excited to keep watching for sure."

As an example of that work ethic, Fuller specifically recalled seeing Jefferson run routes full-speed with wide receivers coach Eric Yarber "after every single practice" last year.

"I kind of formed that habit in college, but I think that I would stay after practice if – if I drop a ball on a specific route, I would have to run it over maybe like five times just so I can get that catches five times, and so that's kind of what I just bought when I got to the league," Jefferson said. "Doing that and just staying on top of things, and just making sure I'm on top of my game. And like you said, just my work ethic. My dad (Shawn Jefferson, current Cardinals wide receivers coach and former NFL wide receiver) taught me that at a young age, that's just what he instilled in me, so I just keep it going."

That work began to pay off earlier this offseason, when head coach Sean McVay called Jefferson "a major bright spot" and a player "we're expecting big things from." He formed a strong first impression with new quarterback Matthew Stafford during organized team activities in the spring, and the connection carried over during training camp – it wasn't uncommon to see Stafford connect with Jefferson on a deep pass downfield during practices in Irvine.

Now, he's become a trusted do-it-all receiver.

"Just the ownership of what we're asking him to do," Rams head coach Sean McVay said, when asked about the biggest difference between Jefferson's contributions in Year 1 and Year 2. "I think he's really worked hard. You can see he's a really conscientious player. But understand how to work edges on guys versus bump, aggressively attacking the football and then really just having an ownership of the system, the things that we're trying to get done, where he fits within the framework of the different concepts, and it's getting better and better. He's making a lot of plays, that should give him a lot of confidence. And then there's still things that we can continue to just improve on to really be at the upper echelon, but feel really good about Van, I think he's made a lot of really good progress."

Stafford said Jefferson has been making the most of his opportunities, and that "there's even a few more there that I feel like we can connect on and really make defenses pay."

"He's just continuing to progress, and that's what you want," Stafford said. "You just want to see a guy with drive and with the right attitude. He just comes in here every single day working his tail off, trying to get better, and it's producing on the field."

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