When Van Jefferson joined the Los Angeles Rams out of Florida, he was described as a “versatile, skilled receiver” but was “likely to do his most damage from the slot” in his draft report conducted by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein.
Six games into the 2022 season, it’s clear the Rams missed that versatility and the damage he can inflict on defenses as Jefferson had been dealing with a knee injury — forcing Jefferson to watch the Rams offense struggle from the sidelines.
A high-powered offense that torched defenses on their way to the 2022 Super Bowl victory is currently 19th in passing yards at 1,588. Furthermore, the Rams have only thrown six touchdown passes — the worst among NFC West teams. Even more telling, their next opponent on Sunday, October 30 the San Francisco 49ers — known more for attacking teams with a vaunted running attack — has delivered better aerial production than the Rams as the Niners have the ninth most passing yards in 2022 and has one more passing touchdown than the Rams.
But head coach Sean McVay on Wednesday, October 26 delivered the update Rams fans have been waiting on throughout the season: Jefferson is on his way back. McVay mentioned what Jefferson’s future return can mean for the Rams moving forward.
“I just think it’s the overall productivity,” McVay said to reporters on Wednesday, October 26. “Obviously, he brings the big play element, but I think Van’s a complete receiver. I think he showed that with the way that he was progressing, really throughout last year.
“So to be able to get him back, a guy with a lot of experience, a lot of ownership of our offense, the ability to play in a bunch of different spots. I think he’s a compliment to some of the guys that we already have in the mix,” McVay added.
The Rams have gone with a more day-by-day approach with Jefferson. But the expectation is that he will contribute immediately…which points to Jefferson suiting up against the rival 49ers.
And should Jefferson play, here’s where he can help the most with the Rams.
Part of the Rams’ woes on offense comes when the down marker flips to “3.”
The Rams have only converted 32 of their 75 third down attempts, meaning they’ve only been successful in 42.6% of their situations. The 49ers defense on third down has surrendered just 38.7% conversions to opponents. However, the Kansas City Chiefs were immensely successful facing a punt situation in their 44-23 romp of the Niners in Week 7 by converting six of nine third down attempts.
Last season Jefferson produced 33 first downs during the regular season. His routes and towering presence can come in handy and take pressure off of Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson in those scenarios. Speaking of those wideouts…
Drawing More Solo Matchups
A healthy Jefferson increases the probability of more one-on-ones for the Rams.
The presence of Jefferson can finally guarantee less bracket coverage or double teams for the aforementioned No. 1 and No. 2 wideouts. At 6-foot-2 and equipped with a reported 4.39 40-yard dash time, Jefferson will command more attention compared to Brandon Powell, Tutu Atwell and Ben Skowronek. That’s no knock on the three, and Skowronek has handled the third receiver rigors impressively well while also juggling fullback duties, but this offense created more mismatches against the defense when Jefferson was in the lineup off his combination of size and speed.
As it is, there’s the reports of the 49ers making the questionable decision to place veteran safety and one of the league’s best coverage defenders Jimmie Ward at nickelback — which former 49er Jaquiski Tartt disagreed with. That means Ward will likely lock in on Kupp the whole way. But that also means “A-Rob” and Jefferson, if the latter is activated, draws less battles with the Niners’ best free safety and they’ll be left with defenders who have battled an injury (Charvarius Ward with a groin ailment, who’s been the 49ers’ best cornerback), coming back from injury (Jason Verrett from his ACL tear, still to be determined if he plays Sunday) or drawing matchups with a potential trade target (Ambry Thomas).
Potential for More Big-Play TDs
The Rams have scored 11 touchdowns this season…but only one was not in the red zone.
Kupp holds the title for having the longest score from scrimmage: His 75-yarder in the loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
But the last time Jefferson was in the lineup, half of his six touchdowns stretched between 52 to 79 yards — including helping give Matthew Stafford his first career TD pass as a Ram:
His longest was this one against the Green Bay Packers, which drew solo coverage:
Again, the Rams are taking a day-to-day approach with Jefferson. But if there’s ever a prime opportunity to insert him in, it’s this game against a heated rival.