Justin Jefferson has a 2,000-yard season in sight for the Vikings

Every NFL season, a huge Week 1 performance will lead to tongue-in-cheek proclamations that the player is about to destroy a league record.

So, just for the record: No, Justin Jefferson’s 184-yard outing on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers doesn’t mean the Minnesota Vikings wide receiver will have over 3,000 receiving yards by the end of Week 18. .

But could Jefferson become the first NFL wide receiver to reach the top 2,000? Various factors could combine to make this a very plausible result.

It’s certainly a goal the third-year star is aiming for.

“Hopefully everything goes well and I can get that 2,000,” Jefferson told reporters in July.

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After setting a 2020 league rookie record with 1,400 receiving yards and raising that number to 1,616 last year, Jefferson has established himself as one of the best at his job. The fact that he’s only 23 suggests he still has room for improvement.

In what could be a crucial development, he now has offensive-minded head coach Kevin O’Connell, who just helped the Los Angeles Rams’ Cooper Kupp to 1,947 yards last season and seems determined to make Jefferson a similar Minnesota focal point. offensive. Jefferson may also have a supporting cast that hits the sweet spot of being good enough to deserve defensive attention, but not so good as to eat away at its shares of passing targets and overhead yards.

Add it all up and Jefferson has the potential for a pass-catching season the likes of which has yet to be seen in the NFL.

Of course, this season could also come from another wide receiver, with Kupp – whose 2021 total is second only to Calvin Johnson’s 1,964 posted with the 2012 Detroit Lions – and Davante Adams of the Las Vegas Raiders the top contenders. more likely. However, Kupp and Adams are both 29 and therefore have different career trajectories, and each has other concerns that Jefferson does not. Kupp tends to run shallower routes than Jefferson and needs more receptions to reach equivalent distance, and there are some questions about the Rams quarterback’s long-term health. Matthew Stafford’s Elbow. Adams arguably has greater competition for targets between teammates Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow, and even while catching passes from Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, Adams has never racked up as many receiving yards as Jefferson in the year. last.

Another possible contender, Jefferson’s former LSU teammate turned Bengals phenom Ja’Marr Chase, also has major target competition in fellow Cincinnati wide receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.

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Matt Harmon, an NFL analyst who created Reception Perception, an analytics platform focused on wide receivers, cited the Buffalo Bills’ Adams and Stefon Diggs as the best wide receivers in the NFL right now, at least in terms of pure running. He acknowledged, however, that when it comes to the 2,000-yard quest, Jefferson “will be pretty much within striking distance all year long if he stays healthy.”

Harmon explained in a phone interview that Jefferson’s placement at over 90 percentiles in the losing zone, man, and press coverage put him in the company’s elite. Harmon added that in O’Connell, Jefferson has someone willing to make him the “engine of the offense” and able to plot him in open territory.

After watching the Minnesota movie 23-7 A Week 1 win over Rodgers and the Packers, Harmon was struck by the amount of instant movement he saw from the Vikings. Jefferson himself was also impressed by this. He told reporters after the game that he liked all of the attack’s moves because it helped him see if the defense was playing zonal or man-to-man.

Hired by the Vikings this year after Jim Harbaugh spoke with them but decided to stay at the University of Michigan, O’Connell is a former NFL quarterback who has spent the past two seasons as a Rams offensive coordinator under Sean McVay. O’Connell replaces Mike Zimmer, a former defensive coordinator who preferred the Vikings to play a run-first, risk-averse style.

The presumption that O’Connell’s Vikings might be inclined to take a more aggressive approach was reinforced by the team’s top 12 finish last week in success rate higher than expecteddespite Minnesota holding a 17-point halftime lead and mostly strangling a Green Bay offense that looked disorganized following Adams’ departure in the offseason.

Other notable forward stats to emerge include Jefferson’s NFL lead mark of 5.58 in yards per course traveledand his second-place finish (behind AJ Brown of the Philadelphia Eagles) with a 72.3% share of his team’s earnings. aerial works planned. This combination bodes well for Jefferson’s chances of maintaining the kind of efficiency and target dominance he’ll need to push past 2,000 yards.

If Jefferson plays all 17 games, his 2021 receiving average of 95.1 must jump to at least 117.7. Only six NFL players have ever reached this number in a required number of games, including Johnson and only two others since the 1970 merger and since the league moved to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

It should help that while O’Connell’s version of the McVay offense doesn’t exactly replicate Kupp’s “big lunge” role, as Harmon described it, Jefferson won’t be “just tied to the line.” . [of scrimmage]” as receiver X and asked to run a constant stream of secondary routes.

‘We can make it difficult for defenses to know where he’s going to be’, O’Connell says PFT Live in March. “[Jefferson] doesn’t have to line up in the same place all the time. He doesn’t have to run the same type of course all the time. He is dynamic with the ball in his hands. He is ready in the racing game. This guy is a special, special player.

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After Sunday’s victory, O’Connell told reporters: “I credit Justin with being able to handle a lot of things. We move him around a lot, we ask him to play multiple spots, and it’s not just an X receiver who lines up here and dictates coverage. We don’t we’re not going to allow that to happen.

What the Packers, believing they had one of the best defenses in the league, allowed to produce was a goal play on which Jefferson was so open on the field, he left game announcers and others observers dazed.

In a video shared by Minnesota on Wednesday, O’Connell explained how Jefferson’s teammates helped clear him for a 36-yard touchdown. The 37-year-old coach scoured replays to highlight tight end Irv Smith crossing the pitch from left to right parallel with Jefferson but at a shallower distance. This put the Packers’ Quay Walker “in a bind,” as O’Connell put it, because the rookie linebacker was tasked with defending the short and middle areas on the right side but could not cover both Smith and Jefferson, who were both going in his general direction. At the same time, wide receivers Adam Thielen and KJ Osborn were executing right-to-left patterns at different depths and taking with them cornerbacks who had to respect their abilities to make plays. With Walker ‘in no man’s land’ and Green Bay safeties struggling to process everything in front of them, the result was a remarkably empty area on the deep right side of the field, where Jefferson hauled in a pass and was able to to evade defenders closer to the end zone for a touchdown.

“We talked a lot to our team this week about wanting to be efficient and explosive,” the coach said.

O’Connell also praised quarterback Kirk Cousins’ “innate feel” for pressure on the play and his willingness to “stand there and deliver” a well-placed ball.

In his 11th NFL season and fifth with the Vikings, Cousins ​​may not be in the same quarterback tier as Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, but he ranks third all time in percent complete. That precision can only make Jefferson’s quest easier, as can the presence of Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook, who can make defenses pay by focusing too much on stopping the pass. That the Vikings are playing home games in a dome, preventing the weather from becoming the late-season factor it can be in places like Cleveland and Buffalo, also helps. Then, of course, there’s the fact that the NFL extended its schedule last year to 17 games.

After starting his 2022 campaign with a promising amount of yards, Jefferson reaffirmed to reporters that his goal was to hit 2,000.

“There’s no better way to start than with 180, is there?” he said with a smile.

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