When Van Jefferson’s stay at the NFL Combine was cut short after a fracture in his right foot was discovered during a medical exam, there was much speculation about how much damage it would have on his standing in the NFL draft.
As it turns about, probably little or none.
Despite not being able to participate in the on-field drills in Indianapolis, the Florida wide receiver put enough good stuff on tape in his two seasons with the Gators to impress the NFL coaches and scouts.
That became evident Friday night, when Jefferson was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the second round with the 57th overall pick.
“I’m so excited to be a part of this organization,” Jefferson said on a video posted on the team’s Twitter account. “I’m grateful for the opportunity. I can’t wait to get to work. Let’s go Rams.”
NFL.com draft analyst Bucky Brooks said Jefferson will have an immediate impact with the Rams.
“(Head coach) Sean McVay loves polished route runners with rock-solid games,” Brooks said. “Jefferson is a pro-ready pass catcher with outstanding hands and ball skills. He should slide into the starting lineup in the Rams’ three-receiver sets.”
Jefferson was the second Gator taken in the draft, following cornerback CJ Henderson, who was taken in the first round with the No. 9 pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday.
Jefferson was the first of three Gators scooped up on the second day of the draft. The two defensive ends — Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Greenard — were selected in the third. Zuniga was taken by the New York Jets with the 79th overall pick, while Greenard was drafted by the Houston Texans with the 90th pick.
In Jefferson’s first two seasons with the Gators after transferring from Ole Miss, he combined to catch 84 passes for 1,160 yards and 12 touchdowns. For his college career at the two schools, he had 175 receptions for 2,159 yards, averaging 12.3 yards a catch.
Jefferson certainly is familiar with the NFL way. His father, Shawn Jefferson, played wide receiver in the league for 13 years and now is the wide receivers coach for the New York Jets.
“I love this kid,” ESPN analysts and former Dallas Cowboy great wide receiver Michael Irvin said. “His father is a very good friend of mine. This kid’s mission in the game is not just about knowing how to get open, it’s also about knowing when to be open. He’s very, very good at that. A great pickup for (the Rams).”
UF coach Dan Mullen congratulated Jefferson on Twitter, posting the following: “Congrats @VanJefferson12. You’ve earned this. The
@RamsNFL are getting an elite route runner and an even better leader. Proud of you.”
As for Jefferson’s fractured foot, he underwent surgery a few days after it was discovered. He said two weeks ago that he was already close to 100 percent and ready to go.
Not long after Jefferson got the call from the Rams, Zuniga received one from the Jets.
“I was really excited,” he said. “I was just filled with excitement and emotion.”
Like Jefferson, Zuniga also had to deal with injury issues, but his came during the season, when he missed more than half the year in 2019 with a nagging high ankle sprain.
“One of my main reasons for coming back (for my senior season) was to improve on my onfield performance,” Zuniga said. “I felt like when I got injured, it was definitely great adversity that I had to overcome. I had to make the most out of the season, just deal with it. That’s part of football, but it was definitely frustrating.”
He played in only six games, recording 14 tackles and 3.0 sacks. For his career, he had 62 tackles. 27.5 tackles for losses, 15.5 sacks and 4.0 quarter hurries.
“Congrats @JabariZuniga. You’ve got the grit and toughness to make an immediate impact in the league. The @jets are lucky to have you. Do what you do best and dominate. #GatorMade,” Mullen posted on Twitter.
Zuniga played some defensive tackle in passing situations, but projects to be a rush end with the Jets, who are looking to ramp up their pass rush.
“He’s twitchy,” ESPN analyst and former NFL defensive tackle Booger McFarland said. “He’s quick off the ball. He understands run schemes, he knows now to play down the line of scrimmage and as a pass rusher, I think he has enough flexibility if he has turning the edge at the next level you can reduce him down inside. He can put on 10 or 15 pounds.
“I like him rushing over the guard. Either way, you have a guy who can stand up and come off the outside in the 3-4 or slide down and kick inside. A little stiff on the lower end, but I think his upside is tremendous.”
Greenard was, arguably, Florida’s best defensive player in 2019. The Louisville graduate transfer recorded 52 tackles, 15.5 tackles for losses, 9.5 sacks, one interception, eight quarterback hurries and forced three fumbles, recovering one. He had 19 career sacks.
“Congrats Jonathan. You came to Florida and immediately had an impact on our team as a leader and role model. I know you will do the same for the @HoustonTexans. Your presence will be missed on the Gators’ Defense. #GatorMade,” Mullen posted on Twitter.