Dynasty Dilemma: Van Jefferson
Van Jefferson is entering his 4th season in the NFL and Sean McVay’s system with the LA Rams. The 6’1”, 200 lb receiver was drafted by the Rams in the 2nd round of the 2020 draft out of the University of Florida. The Gators wideout led the team in receiving among teammates Kadarius Toney, Kyle Pitts, Freddie Swain, and Lamical Perine. On top of leading a stacked receiving corps, Jefferson came into the league with an NFL pedigree. His father is Shawn Jefferson, a 13 year veteran of the NFL and current Wide Receivers coach for the Carolina Panthers. Jefferson’s draft capital and lineage combine for a lot of potential that he is yet to reach, but that doesn’t mean he’s destined for fantasy irrelevancy.
REASON TO BUY
The crux of the argument for Jefferson is his performance two seasons ago. Jefferson’s rookie year was a learning year and he was buried on the depth chart, as is standard in McVay’s system. 2022 was a season stunted by injury, both his own and his quarterback’s, but the 2021 season saw him as the Rams 4th receiving option, and he still settled in for 50 catches for over 800 yards and 6 touchdowns. Jefferson excelled as a deep target, with 63.8%/81.5%/69.6% success rates on vertical, deep post, and deep corner routes, and ranked 3rd in the NFL in average depth of target while the Rams ranked 10th in passing volume. He earned a team air yards share of 23.6% Jefferson finished the season as the PPR WR36.
For 2023, Jefferson’s target competition is gone. Odell Beckham Jr. and Robert Woods have moved on. The Rams didn’t retain Allen Robinson. Cooper Kupp is the alpha in that WR room and Tyler Higbee is a formidable TE, but Jefferson is ready to alternate between split-end and flanker as the team’s WR2. He has the size to work deep and has the bend to work underneath so his target share should see a huge leap. Behind him on the depth chart are Ben Skowronek and rookie Puka Nacua. Neither of them should challenge Jefferson.
Finally, Jefferson is in a contract year. He enters 2024 as a free agent after finishing out his rookie deal. He has every incentive to completely break out this season and get the bag.
REASON TO SELL
After two knee surgeries leading up to the 2022 season, Jefferson failed to live up to his imminent “3rd year breakout.” He didn’t have a catch until the 9th game of the season, after sitting out the first 6 games rehabbing and then slowly working to earn back some target share. While he is a year removed from surgery and managed 9 games last season, it remains to be seen whether he is fully recovered or not.
Matthew Stafford has his own injury issues. He suffered through a bad elbow during the 2021 Super Bowl run and was shut down last season when it was obvious his arm wasn’t ready, he suffered two concussions, and then bruised his spine. An injury depleted line can have that effect on a quarterback. Jefferson needs a QB that can get him the ball and Stafford, while he has to be better than his 2022 replacements, needs to be fully healthy and productive during this, his age 35 season.
Jefferson is currently ranked by Dynasty Pros as WR91 (221 OVR). That puts him squarely in the waiver target/undraftable category in startup drafts, depending on the length of the bench. Based on his flex finish two seasons ago and with impending role increase this season, I don’t see any reason for you to let him go undrafted. Keep an eye on consensus Dynasty ADP as your draft gets closer and don’t be afraid to take him as your WR5/WR6. He’s definitely a candidate to heavily outperform his draft capital and that will spike his value while he produces as startable for the price of a backup TE or UDFA RB.
If you have him stashed on your bench awaiting his health, good on ya, first of all. Secondly, he’s definitely a hold. His current value can’t drop much more and, held as an asset, he should bring a pretty nice return. If it looks like he could finish better than WR36 and you’re out of contention, there’s nothing wrong with shipping him to a contender for a nice 2024 rookie pick.
If you currently covet him, and you should, he’s as cheap as they come. Right now, he can be had for a mid to late 3rd rounder in any of the next 3 drafts. There isn’t likely to be a 3rd round 2023 receiver who breaks into fantasy relevancy. Remember, the goal of Dynasty is “buy low, sell high” and Van Jefferson is the perfect candidate.
Brendon is from Northern California and has been playing fantasy sports for over 25 years. He started sports writing 10 years ago. He is an alumnus of Arkansas Tech University, and follows the UC Davis Aggies, Cal Bears, and Arkansas Razorbacks in the NCAA. He is a die-hard fan of the Raiders, wherever they are, the San Francisco Giants, and Sacramento Kings. To fill his time outside of sports, he acts, writes and directs, and does sketch, improv, and stand-up comedy.