Whether the perception is accurate or not, NFL wide receivers get tagged with reputations for being brash to the point of arrogance. It usually doesn’t kick in until a couple of 80-catch seasons, but Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings is showing his boisterous side in his rookie season.
With numbers like his, it’s tough to fault him for a little bit of cockiness.
Or is it?
Justin Jefferson is off to a flying start
With the amount of talent available, it was just about impossible for NFL teams to fail by picking wide receivers in the 2020 NFL draft. First-rounders like Jerry Jeudy (Denver Broncos), CeeDee Lamb (Dallas Cowboys), and Brandon Aiyuk (San Francisco 49ers) are off to flying starts. The same is true of later selections like Tee Higgins (Cincinnati Bengals) and Chase Claypool (Pittsburgh Steelers).
As good as they are, none compare to Justin Jefferson’s output for the Minnesota Vikings three-quarters of the way through the season.
Jefferson showed tremendous potential in his college career at LSU, where he caught 111 balls for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns in the Tigers’ championship season. Knowing that his stock was unlikely to improve by returning to a team decimated by graduation and early departures, Jefferson declared for the NFL draft.
The Vikings made Jefferson the fifth receiver selected and the No. 22 pick overall. He has rewarded their faith with 52 catches for 918 yards and six touchdowns. The 6-foot-1 Louisiana native made two catches in his debut against the Green Bay Packers and has recorded at least three receptions in each f the 10 games since.
The rookie stepped into the void left by Stefon Diggs
One season into a five-year, $72 million contract extension, Stefon Diggs decided he had seen enough as the Minnesota Vikings committed to Kirk Cousins and – probably to keep Kirk Cousins from throwing the ball – Dalvin Cook. With coach Mike Zimmer committed to having Cook run the ball more, Diggs saw his role in the offense curtailed in 2019.
After making a career-high 102 catches on 149 targets in 2018, Diggs slipped to 63 receptions on 94 targets last fall. And that happened while No. 2 receiver Adam Thielen was missing six games due to injury. That development should have led to greater dependence on Diggs even as secondaries were able to focus more attention in his direction.
Diggs’ attitude deteriorated during the season, and he pushed for a trade after it. The Vikings accommodated, sending Diggs and a seventh-rounder to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for four draft picks.
One of the picks the Vikings acquired was the Bills’ first-rounder in 2020, which allowed Minnesota to select Justin Jefferson. Though the price tag was substantial, you won’t hear Bills fans complain. The addition of Diggs has opened new possibilities for quarterback Josh Allen, who has blossomed in his third season.
Diggs has made 80 catches on 110 targets through 11 games. With 945 yards, he is on his way to surpassing the career-high 1,130 he recorded in his final season in Minnesota.
Justin Jefferson underestimates Stefon Diggs
NFL observers are understandably wowed by Justin Jefferson’s fast start with the Minnesota Vikings. The rookie receiver sounds pretty impressed with himself, too.
Appearing on the All Things Covered with Patrick Peterson and Bryant McFadden podcast, Jefferson opined that he and Adam Thielen form a better tandem than Diggs and Thielen did together in Minnesota. In fairness, Jefferson was responding to McFadden’s question rather than just blurting it out randomly.
Still, there’s a degree of cockiness in his words, beginning with Jefferson saying, “I’m a rookie but I have the mindset of a veteran.”
Keep in mind that not much has changed from 2019. Diggs is gone, but Kirk Cousins and Thielen remain. Thielen has exceeded his 10-game numbers of a year ago, which he should considering the effect of injuries even when he was on the field last season. Cousins’ yardage number is trending a little higher over last year, and he’ll surpass his TD total. But he has already thrown more interceptions, too.
So, Jefferson’s “evidence” of superiority by Vikings receivers this year over last comes down to this:
“Last game was the first time I’ve seen a ‘robber’ having a nickel come press and a having corner in the back. That was the first time I’ve seen that in a hot minute. Just seeing that, it (gives) me confidence as well, showing that a defense has to do that to really lock me down.”Justin Jefferson
Diggs is averaging close to 80 catches a year for his career. Does Jefferson seriously think Diggs wasn’t getting that sort of coverage treatment for the entirety of his time alongside Thielen?
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.