The draft is less than a day away but I wanted to introduce one last wide receiver prospect I’m absolutely enamored with.
I have seen a lot of mock drafts selecting Michael Pittman Jr. to the Colts at 34. As a Pac-12 fan, and a subscriber to his YouTube channel, I have to say that he’s a great kid who fits the scheme perfectly and would be an instant plug-and-play WR. At the same time, I feel Pittman’s athletic profile limits his potential and that he may be close to his ceiling now.
My projection, he will be a 500-700 yards per year receiving but will never reach the elite 1,000+ yards per year echelon.
Therefore, I wanted to look for a receiver who has not garnered as much hype and would be more than serviceable in the round 3-4 range. My answer: The 6’1’’, 200 pound receiver out of Florida, Van Jefferson.
In this first play Jefferson actually doesn’t end up with the ball in his hands. Instead, he uses his 32 inch arms to successfully block the CB and help his teammate hit pay dirt. Jefferson lines up to the weak side, stacking in front of fellow Gator receiver Freddie Swain. As the ball is snapped, Jefferson jumps out of his stance, gets his hands on the inside pads, pushes the corner back and doesn’t disengage. The center and the right tackle pull, giving the Swain enough room to take it to the house.
In the following play Jefferson lines up against man coverage to the left of the formation. Stingley (who is a future top 5 draft pick and LSU’s best defensive back) lines up about 4 yards off the LOS. Jefferson has to take this into account when formulating his route. He has to run a slant toward the middle of the field, but Stingley has enough of a cushion to break up a pass. For that reason, Jefferson eats up about 2 yards before he starts to run his route. Once Jefferson has Stingley at arms reach, he runs a excellent diamond release (three sharp steps towards the outside at 45 degrees). At the end of the third step he plants his outside foot hard and cuts back to the middle of the field. The QB ran an RPO drawing the ILBs in allowing for an easy TD.
Here’s a snap from the Senior Bowl’s 1v1 practice drills. As you will see throughout this piece, this is Jefferson’s marquee move. He gets an outside release and has the corner right on his hip. However, after he takes 5 steps he drops his hips and, with no wasted motion, he cuts back inside for an easy grab.
I’ll show more clips as the article continues, but you’ll see that Jefferson has two elite attributes: his route running and his length/height. His physical measurements are God-given. What isn’t is the nuance that he utilized to move in and out of his cuts. There’s never any wasted motion, and unnecessary chopping of the feet. The ability to change direction at full speed is something many pros work at for years and never truly master. Jefferson has it down pat, which makes him my #2 route runner in this class.
Here’s another example of similar route. Florida lines up in max protect (a TE and RB stay to block), with Jefferson being the Z-receiver at the bottom of the screen. He’s going to run the exact same route as above except for one minor difference, he has to eat up the cushion first.
In the previous play, the CB lines up in press coverage because he’s going to try and jam Jefferson. In this case, the FSU wide receiver gives about 2-3 yards of cushion, so Jefferson has to eat it up before he can run his route. After that, it’s the same as above. Outside release. 5 steps. CB opens his hips. Plants his outside foot. Cuts back inside. Easy catch.
In this case, Jefferson runs a diamond release against LSU. While Florida runs a quick RPO, Jefferson takes three hard steps towards the outside at 45 degrees. The moment LSU’s number 24 opens his hips Jefferson steps hard with his outside foot and cuts it back inside where has the ball waiting for him.
Now this rep against Miami is a bit different. It looks as if the CB is going to jam Jefferson off the LOS. Instead, he blitzes and the safety picks Jefferson up. Now you would have to watch carefully or you’ll miss the elegance of this route. Jefferson cuts inside, takes five steps and fakes running a slant just to step hard and run an out. The safety takes that bait hard (that’s why it looks like stumbles for a second) and Jefferson picks up an easy first down.
I’ve broken down two plays like this one at this point, so I’ll just leave this here for you guys to admire.
Here is Jefferson’s second TD against LSU. Florida lines up trips left with Jefferson being the Z receiver (middle one). He’s going to run a whip-route, but before he can start he has to eat up the 7 yards of cushion. Jefferson takes three steps, hesitates and then explodes to fake that he’s running an out, just to bring it back inside. Shows some great reach and makes a nice grab for 6.
Oooweee, this is a beautiful route. Great stride length coming off the LOS to go along with a fast leg drive. Then about 7 yards out he skips to make the CB plant his feet. When he lands he kicks it up to second gear, getting the CB to open up his hips. Jefferson then drops his hips to change direction for the comeback route.
Jefferson has a nasty hesitation, and he employs it elegantly. He’s not as fast as Ruggs or Reagor, but by switching up his tempo helps himself gain separation.
Another thing I love about Jefferson is that, for a decently tall receiver, he goes in and out of his cuts beautifully. He rarely chops up his feet when changing direction, which allows him to maintain his explosiveness and gives the CB less time to recover.
For a while now I’ve been listening to the different discussions that fans in our community have been having with regards to how we should address WR in the draft. I am of the opinion to stray away from YAC machines such as Reagor, Aiyuk and Shenault as we already have a gadget speedster on the roster in Parris Campbell.
I’m not a fan of size as it tends to lead towards a reliance on contested catches for production. However, when used correctly, I don’t oppose it.
In my eyes, Jefferson is what my build-it-yourself receiver would look like. Tall (6’1’’). Rangy (32.75’’ arms). Close to 200 pounds. NFL athletic (missed Combine with injury). And last but not least, a great route runner.
Per Grinding the Mocks, a website I would highly recommend, he’s predicted to go around the 110th pick. I would comfortably take him in the 80-90s range. Such a selection would allow us to draft the BPA with our prime draft capital (34th and 44th pick) while still getting a pro-ready WR.