Van Jefferson signing will not steer the Steelers away from a significant WR upgrade

The addition of Jefferson brings another body in at the position, but he's hardly a fix at wide receiver.

Atlanta Falcons v Chicago Bears
Atlanta Falcons v Chicago Bears / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

After trading Diontae Johnson to the Panthers, it didn't take long for the Pittsburgh Steelers to add another wide receiver to their roster. On March 15th, Gerry Dulac of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette confirmed that Van Jefferson was inking a one-year contract with Pittsburgh.

Jefferson, a former second-round pick by the Los Angeles Rams in 2020, spent his first three seasons with the Rams and was part of a roster that included a Super Bowl victory. In 2023, Jefferson played just 5 games with the Rams before being traded to the Atlanta Falcons as part of a pick-swap deal.

Though Jefferson is a well-known player and a former high draft choice, this isn't a quick fix at the wide receiver position for the Steelers.

Van Jefferson won't solve the WR problems for Steelers

Jefferson has been up and down in the past. During his second season in 2021 (the Rams' Super Bowl run), Jefferson racked up 802 yards and 6 touchdowns on a whopping 16.0 yards per reception (9.0 yards per target). Last year, the former second-round pick earned just 209 yards and 0 touchdowns on a dismal 4.9 yards per target.

What I like about Jefferson is that he has averaged a solid 7.7 yards per target in his four-year NFL career, and can play inside the slot or at outside receiver.

When playing from the slot, Jefferson possesses great size for the position at 6'1'' and 200 pounds with almost 33'' arms. In this role, he would be an upgrade over Allen Robinson from last season. He has also proven to be a big-play threat down the field at times, and he should fit nicely with Arthur Smith's offense.

However, there are some things that scare me about his game. Jefferson has a concerning career catch rate of just 54.6 percent -- including a drop rate of 7.0 percent last season. He is also coming off the worst season of his career in 2023 where he made minimal impact and was inefficient despite playing in all 17 games (5 with the Rams and 12 with the Falcons).

The most concerning thing about the signing is that Jefferson does not play special teams. Since his second season in 2021, the newly-signed Steelers receiver has logged just 6 special teams snaps. This means that he needs to be a quality WR3 at the very least, as he holds no value as a gunner or on special teams coverage units.

It's also worth noting that, following his rookie contract, Jefferson turns 28 years old before training camp. By no means is this ancient for an NFL wide receiver, but even though he has played just four seasons, there's very little upside to work with here.

Simply put, the receiver we have seen over the past few years with the Rams and Falcons is the one the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to get. Jefferson is a well-rounded player who can line up at multiple receiver positions, but he has not been efficient in recent years and doesn't play special teams.

The addition of Van Jefferson does not fill the void left by Diontae Johnson, nor will it steer the Steelers away from taking a wide receiver early in the 2024 NFL Draft.