To say the Rams are betting big on youth is an understatement. Rather than run back their once explosive offense because of the amount of money invested, they decided to eat over $20 million to jettison running back Todd Gurley and wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Teams don’t do that unless they either have to get rid of a major problem child or they absolutely believe in their plan B.
They drafted running back Cam Akers and wide receiver Van Jefferson in the second round in this year’s draft to the confusion of fans and football writers. There were many plum pass rushers, offensive lineman, running backs, and receivers that were rated higher, and yet those were the two the Rams picked.
Akers already was poised to be a starter but Van Jefferson who was supposed to develop as Josh Reynolds takes Cooks’ slot position is ahead of schedule and has supplanted Reynolds to be the number three and possible number two depending on Cooper Kupp‘s health. Van Jefferson has the potential to be a breakout rookie this season and if you’re not on the hype train get tickets immediately.
Prior to the draft, Van Jefferson wasn’t seen as a first-round prospect like either of the top-three prospects in CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs III, or Jerry Jeudy. Many had him ranging from a late second-round pick to a fourth-round pick. The rap on him was that while his fundamentals (which Kenny Powers considers a crutch for the untalented) were sound, his footwork great, and he possesses height and athleticism, he doesn’t have the physical tools to make it as a starting wide receiver. That basically means he can catch but he’s not a burner and can be pushed around by defenders. So why did the Rams take him with the pick they got from the Texans in the Brandin Cooks trade?
Two of the player comps given to Van Jefferson prior to the draft and more importantly after his selection were Keenan Allen and Cooper Kupp. The Kupp comp is interesting because not only does that mean Sean McVay wants another receiver who can be put anywhere on the field and through his athleticism and skill can make big plays downfield, but Van Jefferson might actually become the next Cooper Kupp depending on what happens next season. It isn’t surprising that the Rams wanted someone who could fill in for Kupp be it due to injury or free agency but what is surprising is how quickly Jefferson is becoming a key contributor.
The idea seemed to be to let Jefferson develop while Josh Reynolds is the clear slot receiver. What’s ended up happening is that while Kupp is nursing an injury, Jefferson became a reliable target for Jared Goff, and based on the videos from camp, he is a dynamic deep threat. His status as the number three hasn’t been cemented yet but it’s looking like he will supplant Reynolds as the number three receiver. Like an awesome Comic-Con panel, great training camp footage doesn’t always translate to real-life but given how enamored Sean McVay is of Jefferson, it won’t be long before he becomes a star on that offense.
As alluded to earlier, the Rams 2021 off-season is a precarious one. Depending on when and what Jalen Ramsey‘s extension looks like as well as how much the cap goes down next year, the Rams might not be able to keep Kupp. If they can’t come to an agreement Van Jefferson could end up being a younger, healthier, cheaper Kupp. If they can keep him and either trade Reynolds or let him walk they have three amazing wide receivers to couple with Tyler Higbee and whoever remains in their tight end rotation. If Jefferson can contribute as a rookie, then the offense could return to something resembling its 2018 heights.
Van Jefferson won’t be the biggest rookie wide receiver to watch but he’s becoming the kind of player that both fans and fantasy junkies see as a breakout player. It’s remarkable and a testament to the fact that while draft gurus know things they don’t know everything. Jefferson is a great fit for what Sean McVay loves to do and it’s only a matter of time before Espn+ subscribers hear Chris Berman call him “Van Jefferson Starship” during a highlight reel. He was drafted to be the future of the Rams but he’s rapidly becoming a part of it’s present.