Saints Draft Prospect: WR Van Jefferson

Bob Rose

When the New Orleans Saints agreed to terms with free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders two weeks ago, they addressed a major weakness. The Saints have gotten little production from their wideouts outside the record-breaking exploits of All-Pro Michael Thomas. The acquisition of Sanders, along with other free agent moves the team has made, gives the Saints more flexibility with their first-round draft pick (24th overall) along with the rest of their selections.

New Orleans may still opt to use their first pick to further bolster the receiving corps, depending on their draft board and the talent available when they select. The wide receiver position is deep in this draft, however, and teams will be able to grab a quality wideout in later rounds. Today we profile a player who won’t hear his name called in the 1st round, but one that looks like he can be a difference-maker in the league.

Van Jefferson, WR (Florida) 6’1 200-Lbs.

WR Van Jefferson, New Orleans Saints Draft Prospect
Nov 24, 2018; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida Gators wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) is defended by Florida State Seminoles defensive back Stanford Samuels III (8) during the first half at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Jefferson (Vanchii Lashawn Jefferson) is the son of Shawn Jefferson, who was an accomplished NFL receiver for thirteen seasons. Van was a four-star recruit out of high school in Brentwood, TN, who took his talents to the University of Mississippi. After redshirting his first season, he earned a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team in 2016 with 49 receptions for 543 yards and three touchdowns. 

He started fewer games for the Rebels in 2017, but still caught 43 passes for 456 yards and a score. After that year, he moved on to the University of Florida as a graduate transfer. Jefferson led the Gators in receptions as a junior with 35 catches for 503 yards and 6 touchdowns. He would repeat the feat last season, pulling in 49 receptions for 657 yards and six touchdowns. comparison (via Lance Zierlein) = Adam Humphries (Titans)

Jan 23, 2020; Mobile, Alabama, USA; South wide receiver Van Jefferson of Florida (14) grabs a pass in front of South cornerback Kindle Vildor of Georgia Southern (2) during Senior Bowl practice at University of South Alabama s Jaguar Football Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Jefferson could not take part in any on-field workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine, after it was revealed that he had a fracture in his right foot during a medical evaluation. He underwent surgery after the diagnosis and is expected to make a full recovery. Prior to the Combine, Jefferson caught the attention of scouts with his individual workouts at the Senior Bowl.

Jefferson plays bigger than his size and doesn’t shy away from contact. He has a slight build though, which could be a disadvantage against bigger defensive backs. He doesn’t possess impressive speed, raising questions about his ability to get deep separation at the next level. Recurring foot problems could be a long term concern because of the type of injury he suffered, but initial reports were that his surgery was successful.

Nov 30, 2019; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) catches the ball over Florida State Seminoles defensive back Levonta Taylor (1) during the second quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY

What Van Jefferson will bring to his new team is a great understanding of defensive coverages and the ability to adjust his route quickly. He’s a sharp and precise route runner that sets up defensive backs with fakes and double moves. Jefferson has powerful hands and catches the ball away from his frame, turning upfield quickly after securing the catch for extra yardage. He operates well in traffic, using his body to shield defenders from the throw.  He has tremendous leaping ability and elevates above the coverage to catch a throw at it's high point.  Jefferson uses quick feet and good upper body movement to defeat the press at the line and gets open quickly.

Van Jefferson may not have the elite speed that some fans covet for their team. He is a tremendous route runner with excellent hands and the skills to flourish in the slot or outside. Jefferson may not be drafted until the third or fourth round, but has the ability to make teams regret their decision to pass on him.