Florida’s Jefferson ready to get past surreal six weeks, find NFL home

Florida wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) scores a touchdown against Florida State at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in last November's game. [Matt Pendleton/Correspondent]

 Wide receivers always want to avoid those blindside hits, whether it’s going over the middle of the field or, say, going to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

 In his two years at the University of Florida, wide receiver Van Jefferson managed to avoid blindside shots on the field, but he got drilled by one — figuratively — in Indianapolis.

 During his physical exam before the start of the on-field drills, doctors discovered a fracture in his right foot. Just like that, Jefferson’s Combine was kaput.

 “It was definitely frustrating,” Jefferson said Thursday. “That’s the dream that I had since I was a kid, being invited to the Combine and competing against some of those guys out there, just enjoying the process.”

 Jefferson did not see it coming. Or feel it, for that matter.

 “No, I never had problems with my foot,” he said. “My foot was never hurting me or bothering me. I never felt any pain in my foot. I was surprised that something came back like that (in the exam).

 “(The doctors) don’t know when it happened. I don’t know when it could have happened. I have no idea. I was clueless. It just popped up on the screen. Everything happens for a reason, though.”

 Jefferson underwent surgery after the Combine and was facing six to eight weeks of rehab. He reaches the six-week mark Tuesday.

 “It’s going well,” he said. “I had my checkup (Wednesday) and it went well. I can finally start getting into a shoe now and doing my exercises and getting back into my routine.

 “I’m chomping at the bit to get back.”

 Jefferson, of course, missed the on-field drills at the Combine. But being sidelined the past six weeks really hasn’t been that big of a setback because no draft-eligible players have been able to work out for NFL teams during that time because of the shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

 Jefferson said the worst part about missing the Combine was losing the opportunity to go through the process with his UF teammates and close friends — fellow senior Gator wide receivers Freddie Swain and Tyrie Cleveland.

 “I was upset I didn’t get to go out there and experience it with guys like Freddie and Tyrie,” he said. “That was the most disappointing part to me, just not being in that moment with those guys and going through drills with them. Just being together. That was kind of my whole issue, not being able to be out there with them.”

 Jefferson did not have a chance to show the NFL coaches and scouts what he can do on the field in Indianapolis in February, but they had a chance to check him out during the week of the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in January.

 And then there’s the tape. He’s got lots of good stuff there for the NFL to see from the last two seasons in which he combined to catch 84 passes for 1,160 yards and 12 touchdowns.

 The NFL guys probably could find out all they need to know about Jefferson — hands, route-running ability, playmaking skills, physicality — by watching the tape of last season’s LSU game.

 Jefferson beat elite cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. on multiple occasions and finished the game with eight receptions for 73 yards and two touchdowns.

 So, he’s got lots of good tape.

 “I’m in pretty good shape there,” he said. “I’m confident in my ability, in what I can do. That’s going to translate to the NFL. My route-running ability is going to translate to the NFL.

 “I’m just ready for everything that comes with it. My mentality going into it is just being a dog. Whoever gives me an opportunity, I’m just ready for that moment.”

 Jefferson said he has had phone conversations with every NFL team, doing FaceTime with many of them, but has gotten no feel for which teams are the most high on him.

 “It’s hard to say who has the most interest,” he said. “Every team calls more than once. I think it’s pretty much equal right now. I’ll have no idea until draft day where I’m going to go. Right now, I’m just answering the calls and talking to the teams that want to talk to me. It will all play out when draft day comes.”

 Given all that’s happened the past six weeks — finding out about the fracture in his foot and then seeing all sports getting shut down by the threat of the coronavirus — it’s been a somewhat surreal time for Jefferson.

 “Yeah, it has,” he said. “You’ve got to go with the flow. Adapt to it. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. I’m just staying focused on what I have to do, staying focused on getting back to my normal self.

 “I will get there, and when I do, it’s going to be full speed.”