When the Rams traded Brandin Cooks to Houston in early-April, they weren't necessarily seeking his replacement through the 2020 NFL Draft. They did, however, see a striking resemblance to two other targets in head coach Sean McVay's 11-personnel package.
"As you consider Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, and if they were standing side-by-side, and they were looking into a mirror," explained James Gladstone, the Rams director of scouting strategy. "Their reflection would be that of Van Jefferson."
Among the commonalities was vicious route running that could leave even the best defensive backs "grasping for cloth."
"Though Van Jefferson was not the first wide receiver that we discussed for this group of draft prospects, it quickly became apparent that he would be the first wide receiver that we would consider drafting," Gladstone said.
From one of the most heralded pass-catching classes in NFL Draft history, it was a bold move to select one who didn't run a 40-yard dash at 57th overall.
And the Rams may not have, without the Cooper Kupp Test.
"Kupp didn't run an admirable 40-yard dash," said general manager Les Snead of the 4.62 on display in Indianapolis.
"2017, (Kupp) stacked as the fastest max speed at the Senior Bowl regardless of position," Snead continued, referencing the Zebra Technologies available at the influential pre-Draft event. "Van Jefferson went ahead and did the exact same thing. So that was something that was a great tell for us."
The executive director of the Senior Bowl, Jim Nagy, compared Jefferson to another undervalued receiver from the 2019 class, Terry McLaurin. The former Ohio State Buckeye went to Washington at 76th overall and proceeded to earn All-Rookie honors with 58 receptions, 919 receiving yards and seven touchdowns despite inconsistent quarterback play.
It's worth noting that while Jefferson passed the Cooper Kupp Test by way of top-end speed, there's no statistical comparison between the SEC product and the FCS receiving king.
However, in 2016 at Ole Miss, before he transferred to Florida, Jefferson was in a skill group with a staggering number of professional prospects. Among them were his freshmen classmates A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf. Each hauled in at least 900 yards and seven touchdowns as NFL rookies with the Titans and Seahawks, respectively.
|Player (Year)||2016 Ole Miss stats (receptions/receiving yards/receiving touchdowns)||NFL rookie stats|
|Evan Engram (Senior)||65 / 926 / 8||64 / 722 / 6 (2017 NYG)|
|Van Jefferson (Freshman)||49 / 543 / 3||? (2020 LA)|
|A.J. Brown (Freshman)||29 / 412 / 2||52 / 1,051 / 8 (2019 TEN)|
|D.K. Metcalf||2 / 12 / 2||58 / 900 / 7 (2019 SEA)|
"Van Jefferson out-produced both of those players while serving on the same roster in 2016 at Ole Miss," notes Gladstone.
As for the foot injury that prevented Jefferson from participating at the Underwear Olympics (as Snead often refers to the Combine)? The 12th receiver taken in this year's Draft said then he was already well on the road to recovery from surgery. Sean McVay recently wrapped up the virtual off-season expecting every member of the roster to be available for training camp.