Why Van Jefferson is key to the Rams’ rebuilt receiving corps

Rams wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) warms up during their last minicamp camp in Thousand Oaks.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Late in the Rams’ final offseason practice on Wednesday, receiver Van Jefferson sprinted up the right sideline as quarterback Matthew Stafford moved out of the pocket and extended a play.

Jefferson jetted past a defensive back, expertly tracked a long pass and caught the ball for a long completion, earning fist bumps from nearly a dozen teammates and coaches on his way off the field.

Jefferson finished the workout with a short touchdown catch over the middle.

The impressive performance visibly buoyed a player regarded as the front-runner to move into the No. 2 receiver spot behind star Cooper Kupp.


It also inspired confidence from coach Sean McVay.

The Rams practiced on Day 1 of their two-day minicamp, and the new wide receivers and some rookies impressed the coaches. Day 2 will be held Wednesday.

June 13, 2023

“We all know what Van is capable of,” McVay said before his team broke for the summer.

The Rams report to training camp at UC Irvine on July 25.

When they reconvene, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Jefferson is expected to move into a role that Allen Robinson could not adequately fill last season. The Rams were so desperate to part ways with Robinson, they agreed to pay $10 million of his salary as part of the trade that sent him to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Jefferson, 26, is eager to put last season behind.

After the Rams’ Super Bowl victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in February 2022, Jefferson had left knee surgery. A week into training camp, he had surgery on the same knee.

Jefferson sat out six games, and then returned to catch 24 passes — three for touchdowns — during the Rams’ dismal 5-12 season.

Rams rookie receiver Puka Nacua runs after a catch at minicamp.
Rams rookie receiver Puka Nacua runs after a catch at minicamp. He has impressed coaches with his knowledge of the playbook.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“It was unfortunate what happened last year,” Jefferson said of his knee issues, “but there’s some adversity that comes with life — you’ve got to play the cards you’re dealt and it’s just how you bounce back from it.

“I felt like after that injury I came back the second half of the season. Now I have a full offseason to get back to myself.”

Kupp and Jefferson are part of a receiving corps that also includes Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek, rookie Puka Nacua, Lance McCutcheon and recently signed veterans Tyler Johnson and Demarcus Robinson.

“Guys that have played a little, guys that have played a lot,” Stafford said. “But I know all of them are hungry to get better and learn, which is what you want as a quarterback.”

The Rams need Jefferson and other receivers to step up and become viable targets for Stafford, who was sharp throughout workouts after recovering from a season-ending spinal bruise.

Rams star receiver Cooper Kupp mainly worked out on the sideline Tuesday but went through a two-minute drill at organized team activities.

June 6, 2023

Kupp, the 2021 NFL offensive player of the year, is coming off season-ending ankle surgery. The seventh-year pro was due to carry a team-high $27.8 million salary-cap number this season, but the Rams recently restructured his contract to free $10 million, a person with knowledge of the situation said. Kupp will carry a cap number of $17.4 million, according to


Jefferson appears to be the probable No. 2, but said he was not concerned about labels or being in a contract year.

“You want the ball to come your way,” he said, “but … I just want to be out there with my teammates, control what I can control and be the best I can be.”

Atwell, the Rams’ second-round draft pick in 2021, did not catch a pass as a rookie but showed last season he could be a deep-ball threat.

Tutu Atwell has played sparingly his first seasons with the Rams and last season had some big moments, but so far in OTAs his connection with Matthew Stafford has improved.

May 31, 2023

Atwell, 5-9 and 165 pounds, said he can now play all three receiver spots.

“It’s just time to play ball,” he said, “and show everybody what I can do.”

McVay has said he should have utilized Atwell more last season. The third-year pro was “a real bright spot” during offseason workouts, according to McVay.

“You can see just the comfort in playing a lot of snaps last year, gaining some confidence and then being able to move around,” he said. “That’ll be really valuable.

Skowronek caught 39 passes and rushed for a touchdown last season. He was held out of offseason workouts because of a foot injury.


Nacua, a fifth-round draft pick from Brigham Young, has impressed with his versatility and quick command of the playbook.

Here’s a rundown of all 14 players the Los Angeles Rams selected in the 2023 NFL draft, including a list of the Rams’ undrafted free-agent signings.

May 1, 2023

“Not babying him at all with the motions and the alignments and stuff like that,” offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur said, adding that when coaches assess young players, “Just look at their eyes when they’re in the huddle and you can tell the guys that are swimming, the guys that aren’t and he definitely has a calm demeanor about himself and is fitting in nicely.”

Nacua said he has learned from watching Kupp.

“We call him the Route Doctor,” Nacua said. “He’s the best of the best.”

McCutcheon made the team last season as an undrafted free agent but did not catch a pass.

Johnson, who has played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Houston Texans, has 48 catches, two for touchdowns. Robinson played six seasons and won a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs before catching 48 passes last season for the Baltimore Ravens.

McVay was asked if he had concerns about the receivers going into the season.

“I think I feel better about it,” he said, adding, “Guys have all taken steps in the right direction.”