A Stat Worth Noting in Gators WR Van Jefferson's Road to the NFL

Van Jefferson didn't get to answer long speed questions after a Jones fracture held him out of the NFL Combine. But a key stat from the Senior Bowl might help him out in that respect.
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Former Florida Gators wide receiver Van Jefferson didn't participate in the 40 yard dash at the 2020 NFL Combine.

While Jefferson is a proven, knowledgable route-runner from his time at Florida and Ole Miss, his long speed has been questioned by scouts and analysts in his draft process. After doctors discovered a Jones fracture in his right foot at the Combine, Jefferson was held out of all athletic testing drills. 

On top of that, should Jefferson have accelerated his recovery from surgery - he was expected to be sidelined for 6-8 weeks - the Florida Pro Day that was scheduled for March 31st was canceled due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

With a pre-draft injury popping up preventing him from potentially answering the long speed questions, there is a chance that Jefferson could slip past his day two projection. Though, Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy has a stat on hand that could help Jefferson's case.

Nagy, with the help of Zebra Technology, produced a top speed of 21.05 miles per hour during Senior Bowl practices in January - the fastest speed on hand during the event. The three highest following Jefferson - Texas wide receiver Devin Duvernay (20.90 MPH), Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims (20.26 MPH), and Memphis hybrid running back/wide receiver Antonio Gibson (20.15 MPH) - all posted 40 yard dash times of 4.39 seconds or better at the Combine in February.

A 4.39 40 yard dash would rank in the 87th percentile among NFL receivers tracked at the Combine or pro days since 1999, according to Mockdraftable. A result like that would have likely erased long speed concerns for Jefferson, and shot him up draft boards.

It should also be noted that Jefferson's former Florida teammate, wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland, tied for the sixth-fastest player at the Senior Bowl at 20 MPH. At the Combine, Cleveland and another former Gators wide receiver - Freddie Swain - both posted a 4.46 40 yard dash. Both are considered fringe draft/undrafted free agent caliber prospects, though Cleveland's time for his size at 6-2, 209 lbs. intrigues teams.

Besides his speed being on display and recorded, the Senior Bowl served Jefferson well. In the three-day stretch of team practices in front of NFL staff, Jefferson put on a clinic in one-on-one and team drills by separating and catching passes against some of the draft's best cornerbacks. Jefferson, along with former Gators running back Lamical Perine, earned practice player of the week honors for their showings.

The NFL Combine is an important event for NFL teams to get a better feel for the prospects they have evaluated on film for some time. While it was unfortunate that the Jones fracture held Jefferson out of drills, it's good that the injury was caught before any further damage could be done - and teams were still allowed to meet with Jefferson at the event before pro days and further visits were canceled. 

But, perhaps this resurfacing stat could benefit Jefferson in the long run - elevating his draft stock and, of course, the salary he would receive as a higher draft pick over a four-year contract.