The Los Angeles Rams dipped into the Middle Tennessee talent pool in the 2020 NFL draft, taking former Ravenwood receiver Van Jefferson in the second round and former Ensworth tight end Brycen Hopkins in the fourth round.
Jefferson and Hopkins become the second and third players on the Rams roster from the Middle Tennessee area, joining former MTSU offensive tackle Chandler Brewer. If you count ex-Tennessee running back Ethan Kelley and tight end Ethan Wolf, the Rams have five players with a state of Tennessee connection.
Jefferson was the 11th receiver taken in quite possibly the deepest receiver class in draft history. He was projected as a third-round pick but was the fifth receiver grabbed in the second round. He joins a relatively thin L.A. wide receiver group behind Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, who combined for 184 receptions, 2,295 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"I just have to leave it in God's hands," Jefferson said of waiting to hear his name called. "I woke up (Friday) morning, just praying to God and asking him to show me His way, put his helping hand on me. Practice patience, man. Everything happens for a reason.
"A lot of great receivers that got to hear their name called, but I'm just here to prove I can be the best player I can be.”
Jefferson was among Florida’s leaders in several receiving categories, ranking first in receiving yards (657), second in receptions (49) and receiving touchdowns (6).
He joins a Rams passing offense that ranked No. 4 in the NFL last season. Quarterback Jared Goff was tied for the league lead in pass attempts (626) and had the third-most passing yards in the NFL (4,638). As a team, the Rams had the third-most receptions in the league (397) and fifth-most receiving yards per game (291.8).
"It instantly clicked in my head, 'Man, that offense goes,'" Jefferson said. "I know going in, I'm going to be able to catch balls from Jared Goff and play alongside Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. It's just a great opportunity, a great situation I'm going into, so I'm excited about it."
Hopkins joins a crowded tight end group that includes Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee, Ethan Wolf, Kendall Blanton and Johnny Mundt. Hopkins will have to fight his way into the lineup as LA got plenty of production from Higbee (69 receptions, 734 yards, 3 TDs) and Everett (37 receptions, 408 yards, 2 TDs).
"I think one of my strengths is my ability to create separation at the top of routes and use my athleticism to go up and get the ball," Hopkins said in a video conference after being drafted. "I want to become a more consistent catcher. I don't have bad hands; I just think I can concentrate more on that ball and look it in."
Hopkins had a bit of a wait as he was the ninth tight end taken and the fourth selected in the fourth round despite outperforming most of the players taken ahead of him.
Hopkins had 61 receptions for 830 yards and seven touchdowns. He was tied for the second-most touchdown receptions and had the third-most receptions and receiving yards of all tight ends drafted.
"Man, the anxiety is crazy,” Hopkins continued. “It kind of eats away at you. You don't know where you're going to go, it's uncertain, but once your name is called, it makes up for everything. It makes up for all that time before."