Quickly ascending from second-team reps to first-team reps during Saturday's scrimmage came as no surprise to Van Jefferson.
Confidence is a must to reach the NFL, maturity a necessity for a long, successful career, and the Rams wide receiver perhaps has more of both than a typical rookie.
"I'm always confident in myself whether that's any rotation I'm going with," Jefferson said during a video conference with reporters Sunday evening. "Just focus on my fundamentals, focus on my assignments and focus on what I need to do. I just feel like I just go out there and just play my game. Mistakes are going to happen, so just as long as you correct them and come back from them, you'll be fine."
That self-assurance comes from many sources, including confidence boosts from teammates and a competitive background.
Start first with the 24-year-old's competitive background.
Van's father, Shawn Jefferson, enjoyed a 13-year playing career as a wide receiver in the NFL and is now entering his 16th year coaching in the league.The 2020 season is Shawn's second as assistant head coach/wide receivers for the New York Jets, and he was a wide receivers coach for the Detroit Lions (worked with Calvin Johnson), Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins prior to his current stop.
Van, after the draft in April, said he credits his father for teaching him everything he knows, and echoed those comments on Sunday.
"My dad was very hard on me at a young age," Jefferson said. "He always pushed me man to be the best. Always pushed me to be the best person, be a good football player, be a good role model. So, my dad was always on me man. He was always harping, 'stay ready so you don't have to get ready.' So, of course it was times where I was like 'man I don't feel like going back to the facility. I don't feel like going out and running routes,' but now that I'm here, I look back on those things man. My dad was a pivotal piece. Part of my success."
Indeed, the tough love paid off. At Ravenwood High in Brentwood, Tennessee, Jefferson became a nationally-ranked and consensus four-star recruit who would accumulate more than a dozen scholarship offers, according to his Rivals.com recruiting profile.
As a graduate transfer, Jefferson led Florida in receiving in both of his seasons in Gainesville, posting 35 receptions for 503 yards and six touchdowns in 2018 then 49 receptions for 657 yards and six touchdowns in 2019.
Prior to transferring to Florida, he signed with Mississippi, where, as Voice of the Rams J.B. Long noted in a June 20 article on theRams.com, he out-produced freshman classmates A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf. During that 2016 season, Jefferson also played alongside a senior tight end named Evan Engram who would later become a first-round draft pick the following spring.
"Those guys are having successful careers right now, so just being around them, it was good," Jefferson said. "Now (I'm) just try to focus on me and focus on being a better football player."
To hear his teammates telling it, Jefferson is doing so at a rapid rate. Rams quarterback Jared Goff, during an Aug. 18 video conference, said Jefferson reminds him of Cooper Kupp because of how far ahead he is for a rookie.
"He's done a great job. He's really picking things up fast," Goff said. "He's obviously extremely athletic, but I think his ability to be able to pick up the offense mentally and understand the little intricacies of it has been really impressive, and I'm excited to play with him."
Kupp understand the comparison when told of the compliment and expanded further on why Jefferson has been a quick study so far.
During a video conference Sunday evening, Kupp said he takes pride in knowing everything about an offense, and that it "stresses me out" when he steps on the field and doesn't know what everyone is doing. For example, if he hears a play call that includes "scat" protection – meaning a running back has blocking responsibilities – he wants to know what the running back will be doing so he understands how the defense will react to it.
"He wants to understand everything," Kupp said. "I think that lends itself to, now it forces that stress on top of just the acceleration of learning the offense, because it forces you now to widen your scope and see okay, well it's not just about learning one position, it's about learning, 'what are we doing as an offense, what's the why behind what we're doing?' That's really the way my thinking has been, that's what helped me move through this, and I think Van kind of thinks along those same lines."
While Jefferson saw first team reps during Saturday's scrimmage, his role is still to be determined. Rams head coach Sean McVay said they are evaluating how comfortable Jefferson is moving around the offense, though one of the things they liked about Jefferson is how he has the ability to play inside or outside.
For now, McVay, like Kupp and Goff, is pleased with how Jefferson continues to do a "great job" of learning every single day from wide receivers coach Eric Yarber and assistant wide receivers coach Zac Robinson and sees why Jefferson isn't an ordinary rookie.
"You can see, kind of like what we've talked about ever since we drafted him, he's got a knack for the game," McVay said. "Football just makes sense to him."