Vikings WR Justin Jefferson reflects on record rookie season, 'disrespectful' draft position
The Minnesota Vikings are not in the postseason, but one of their players could be making headlines around the Super Bowl.
Justin Jefferson, Minnesota’s breakout rookie receiver, is a top candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year, which will be awarded at NFL Honors on Feb. 6. Jefferson, who more than filled in for the departed Stefon Diggs this season, will likely be neck-and-neck with Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert for the honor.
If Jefferson were to take home OROY, he would be the first receiver to win the award since Odell Beckham in 2014 and the first Vikings player to win it since Percy Harvin in 2009.
Such accolades were never on Jefferson’s mind as he was preparing for his rookie campaign, though.
“I wanted to be the best receiver I can be,” Jefferson told NFL Network’s Steve Wyche and Jim Trotter recently on the Huddle & Flow podcast. “I didn’t want to really compare myself to the other rookie receivers. I wanted to be the best receiver in the league.”
Jefferson might not have wanted to compare himself to his fellow rookie receivers before the season, but he shouldn’t be shy about doing so now. The fifth receiver taken in the 2020 draft — behind Henry Ruggs III (No. 12), Jerry Jeudy (15), CeeDee Lamb (17) and Jalen Reagor (21) — Jefferson (22) was the only rookie WR to break 1,000 receiving yards. The Vikings star’s 1,400 yards were an all-time rookie record and 465 more than the next closest rookie’s total. His 88 receptions also paced all rookie wideouts.
Jefferson told Trotter and Wyche that watching a quartet of receivers come off the board, from schools like Alabama, Oklahoma and TCU, before him, a fixture of the 2019 LSU national championship team, was frustrating and inspired him to his record rookie campaign.
“I kept a chip on my shoulder, if you want to say that,” Jefferson said. “I just felt like I was one of the top receivers, especially off of the performance I did with the national championship, having over 1,500 yards, having 18 touchdowns. So being the fifth receiver picked up, I felt that was disrespectful on their part.
“I just wanted to prove everybody wrong. All of the doubts about me playing outside, me not being a fast receiver, me not being able to go deep. So this past season, I worked on all of those things. I just tried to clean up my game a little bit more and be that versatile receiver.”
Jefferson didn’t get off to the hottest start in 2020, picking up just five catches for 70 yards in Minnesota’s first two games, both losses. But his breakout came the following week in his first start. After that performance, a season-best 175-yard outing in a close loss to Tennessee, Jefferson knew he had arrived.
“After my first start, after Week 3, having 175 yards, just being a big performer of the game, and just dancing into the end zone, that excitement, I knew I was capable of being a problem in the league,” Jefferson said. “Especially going against Malcolm Butler. Malcolm Butler is one of the top corners in the league. So having a performance like that on him definitely opened my eyes a little bit and gave me a little bit more confidence.”
He channeled that confidence into a mixed bag of season in Minnesota, one that featured as many 100-yard receiving games as Vikings wins (seven). Though Minnesota will go without a Lombardi Trophy for the 60th year in a row and a postseason appearance for the third time in five years, Vikings fans and the organization can take solace in one of their stars potentially reaping some hardware come Feb. 6.
If the chip on Jefferson’s shoulder grows any more, there might be more where that came from.
You can hear the full episode of the “Huddle & Flow” podcast hosted by Steve Wyche and Jim Trotter on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcast provider.
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