Justin Jefferson’s unbridled confidence knows no bounds.
Fresh off his second straight 1,400-yard season, the Minnesota Vikings wide receiver not only said he thinks he can break 2,000 receiving yards (which would break an NFL record), but he also believes he will be considered as the best passer in the NFL by the end of the season. Yes, better than Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams — who Jefferson said is No. 1 right now — and Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who led the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. 2021.
“I think I have to do it three years in a row for everyone to believe it [I’m the best]”, Jefferson told Complex on July 14. “Some people don’t think two years from now you deserve to be at the top of the league. And then I, I feel like I’m going to jump 1,600 yards, too. So I think I’m going to be the best receiver after this year.”
It’s a bold statement for Jefferson, but not inconceivable.
Jefferson broke the rookie receiving yards record in 2020 (which was later broken by the Cincinnati Bengals with Ja’Marr Chase in 2021) as well as Randy Moss’ record for most receiving yards in a player’s first two seasons. Jefferson needs just 1,148 yards in 2022 to even break Moss’ three-year mark. This would be a career low for Jefferson.
And if he eclipses 1,400 yards again, Jefferson will become just the 11th receiver in NFL history to do it three times in a career and the youngest since Larry Fitzgerald at age 25 in 2008. He will was also the youngest ever to do it in consecutive seasons.
[Set, hut, hike! Create or join a fantasy football league now!]
Why the Vikings’ new offense could transfer Justin Jefferson to Cooper Kupp’s numbers
The crown is there for Jefferson to take, and his work coupled with an offense already proven to elevate receivers should help Jefferson reach his lofty goals.
Last year alone, Jefferson accounted for 45.2 percent of the Vikings’ total passing yards, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, which was 3 percent more than the next player on the roster. The last player to eclipse 45 percent was Julio Jones for the Atlanta Falcons in 2018, which is also the last year a receiver reached 1,600 yards in a single season before Jefferson and Kupp in 2021.
Jefferson also benefits from playing in much the same offense that turned Kupp into just the fifth triple crown receiver in the Super Bowl era. Former Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell is now the head coach of the Vikings, and he brought Rams passing game coordinator Wes Phillips with him to Minnesota as the team’s new offensive coordinator. Coincidentally (or perhaps on purpose), O’Connell and Phillips both coached quarterback Kirk Cousins in Washington the year before Cousins signed with the Vikings.
Jefferson knows he’ll get the Kupp treatment, too.
“That’s pretty much where Cooper Kupp was, that’s pretty much where I am,” Jefferson said on the Ringer NFL Show earlier this summer. “But my ability to move to different positions will be greater. I am able to log out. You don’t really see Cooper Kupp lined out as often as I do. Either I line up in the backfield, or I just line up in different positions to get the ball.”
That versatility originally stems from his days at LSU, where Jefferson was moved from outside receiver to inside slot for his junior season in 2019 so Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall could get more action. The move helped Jefferson in the long run, according to former LSU receivers coach Mickey Joseph, who said Jefferson built a more complete skill set.
“He has all the intangibles to be probably one of the best receivers in the league,” Joseph, who now coaches at Nebraska, told Yahoo Sports. “He’s got that game where he can get open on the outside and he’s nimble enough to come inside and fight through traffic and noise as a slot receiver.”
What made Justin Jefferson so great?
Longtime receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, who coached Jefferson at LSU in 2018 and worked with him this offseason, said Jefferson checks all the boxes for how a receiver should play in the NFL.
Sullivan outlined a triple pan that all receivers must have to be elite: Beat press coverage, have good vertical acceleration and develop a route at the top of the movement. Jefferson already has all of these (he was the third against press coverage in 2021, per Pro Football Focus, and had at least an 80 percent completion percentage on seven routes, per Reception Perception), plus Sullivan said his mental makeup on the field is on par with Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, who two Sullivan coach with the Arizona Cardinals.
“Those guys have a certain football instinct — and Jefferson has great instincts,” Sullivan told Yahoo Sports. “And he has the ability to go with it. … He’s got tremendous quickness, great vertical quickness, has a really good gift for understanding what he’s trying to accomplish on a passing route. And he has good feet.”
Former Vikings general manager Rick Spielman saw those traits when the team drafted Jefferson 22nd overall in 2020. Jefferson’s movement skills reminded Spielman of Stefon Diggs, who he had just traded to Buffalo Bills him in the offseason and used the pick they received in that trade. take Jefferson.
“His natural feel for the game is something he just has and can’t be coached,” Spielman told Yahoo Sports. “That’s probably why, as he develops and continues to develop and improve his skills and knowledge of the game, he’s just going to keep getting better and better.”
But it took several weeks that first year for Jefferson to be made Justin Jefferson. He did not start the first two games of the season as he continued to adjust to the speed of the game. But when Jefferson exploded for seven catches, 175 yards and a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans in Week 3, Spielman saw a galvanized player who felt validated by his abilities.
“Once they put him in the starting lineup and you see him start making plays — that’s when you see something click,” Spielman added. “There’s just an aura about him that once he had that game, you knew it wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan game.”
Now, Jefferson has set his sights on the superstar. That shouldn’t be too difficult given his natural ability, mental instincts and brand new offense.
But there’s also pressure on Jefferson to build on his already impressive resume.
“I didn’t expect to be at the top of the league so soon, but all the hard work I’ve done and all the things I’ve sacrificed in my career and in my life to make myself this type of player. , it’s definitely a blessing to have all these things come to me so quickly.” Jefferson told Complex. “And I hope God will continue to bless me throughout my career.”