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

Each NFL season, an enormous Week 1 efficiency will result in tongue-in-cheek proclamations that the participant is on tempo to destroy a league file.

So only for the file: No, Justin Jefferson’s 184-yard outing Sunday in opposition to the Inexperienced Bay Packers doesn’t imply the Minnesota Vikings broad receiver could have over 3,000 receiving yards by the tip of Week 18.

However may Jefferson develop into the primary NFL go catcher to prime 2,000? Quite a lot of elements is perhaps combining to make {that a} very believable consequence.

It’s actually a objective for which the third-year star is aiming.

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

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After setting a league rookie file in 2020 with 1,400 receiving yards and bumping that quantity as much as 1,616 final 12 months, Jefferson has established himself as one of many best possible at his place. The truth that he’s nonetheless simply 23 suggests he has room for enchancment.

In what might be a vital growth, he now has an offensive-minded head coach in Kevin O’Connell who simply helped the Los Angeles Rams’ Cooper Kupp get to 1,947 yards final season and seems set on making Jefferson the same point of interest of Minnesota’s assault. Jefferson may have a supporting forged that hits the candy spot of being adequate to benefit defensive consideration however to not the purpose of consuming into his shares of go targets and air yards.

Add all of it up, and Jefferson has the potential for a pass-catching season the likes of which have but to be seen within the NFL.

After all, that season may additionally come from one other broad receiver, with Kupp — whose 2021 complete is second solely to the 1,964 Calvin Johnson posted with the 2012 Detroit Lions — and the Las Vegas Raiders’ Davante Adams the almost certainly candidates. Kupp and Adams are each 29, although, and thus are on completely different profession trajectories, and every has different considerations that Jefferson doesn’t. Kupp tends to run shallower routes than Jefferson and desires extra receptions to get to an equal quantity of yardage, plus there are some questions in regards to the long-term well being of Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford’s elbow. Adams has arguably larger competitors for targets in teammates Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow, and even whereas catching passes from Aaron Rodgers in Inexperienced Bay, Adams by no means racked up as many receiving yards as Jefferson did final 12 months.

One other potential contender, former Jefferson teammate at LSU turned Bengals phenom Ja’Marr Chase, additionally has main goal competitors in fellow Cincinnati broad receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.

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Matt Harmon, an NFL analyst who created Reception Notion, a large receiver-focused evaluation platform, cited Adams and Stefon Diggs of the Buffalo Payments as the very best broad receivers within the NFL proper now, at the very least when it comes to pure route-running. He acknowledged, although, that so far as the search for two,000 yards is anxious, Jefferson is “pretty much going to be within striking distance all year if he stays healthy.”

Harmon defined in a cellphone interview that Jefferson’s 90-plus-percentile placement in defeating zone, man and press coverages put him in probably the most elite of firm. Harmon added that in O’Connell, Jefferson has somebody prepared to make him the “engine of the offense” and capable of scheme him into open territory.

Having checked out movie of Minnesota’s 23-7 Week 1 win over Rodgers and the Packers, Harmon was struck by how a lot presnap motion he noticed from the Vikings. Jefferson himself was additionally impressed with that. He advised reporters after the sport that he preferred all of the motioning the offense was doing, as a result of it helped him see whether or not the protection was enjoying zone or man-to-man.

Employed by the Vikings this 12 months after Jim Harbaugh spoke with them however determined to stay on the College of Michigan, O’Connell is a former NFL quarterback who spent the previous two seasons because the Rams’ offensive coordinator beneath Sean McVay. O’Connell is changing Mike Zimmer, a former defensive coordinator whose desire was for the Vikings to play a run-first, risk-averse fashion.

The presumption that O’Connell’s Vikings is perhaps inclined to take a extra aggressive method was bolstered by the staff’s top-12 end final week in go fee over expectation, although Minnesota held a 17-point lead at halftime and principally throttled a Inexperienced Bay assault that seemed disorganized within the wake of Adams’s offseason departure.

Different notable superior stats to emerge included Jefferson’s NFL-leading mark of 5.58 in yards per route run, and his second-place displaying (behind the Philadelphia Eagles’ A.J. Brown) with a 72.3 % share of his staff’s meant air yards. That mixture bodes nicely for Jefferson’s possibilities of sustaining the kind of effectivity and downfield-target dominance he’ll must prime 2,000 yards.

If Jefferson performs all 17 video games, his 2021 per-game receiving common of 95.1 should take a leap to at the very least 117.7. Solely six NFL gamers have ever reached that determine in a requisite variety of video games, together with Johnson and simply two others because the 1970 merger and because the league moved to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

It ought to assist that even when O’Connell’s model of the McVay offense doesn’t precisely replicate Kupp’s “big slot” position, as Harmon described it, Jefferson received’t “just be tethered to the line [of scrimmage]” as an X receiver and requested to run a gradual stream of sideline routes.

“We can make it hard for defenses to know where he’s going to be,” O’Connell advised PFT Reside in March. “[Jefferson] doesn’t have to line up in the same spot all the time. He doesn’t have to run the same type of routes all the time. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands. He’s willing in the run game. This guy’s a special, special player.”

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After Sunday’s win, O’Connell advised reporters: “I credit Justin for being able to handle a lot. We move him around a lot, we ask him to play multiple spots, and he’s not just an X receiver that lines up over here and dictates coverage. We’re not going to allow that to happen.”

What the Packers, thought to have one of many league’s higher defenses, allowed to occur was a scoring play on which Jefferson was so broad open downfield, it left sport announcers and different observers stunned.

In a video shared Wednesday by Minnesota, O’Connell defined how Jefferson’s teammates helped spring him free for a 36-yard landing. The 37-year-old coach went over replays to spotlight tight finish Irv Smith crossing the sphere from left to proper in parallel with Jefferson however at a shallower distance. That put the Packers’ Quay Walker “in a bind,” as O’Connell put it, as a result of the rookie linebacker was tasked with defending the quick and center zones of the precise facet however couldn’t cowl each Smith and Jefferson, who have been each heading in his basic path. On the identical time, broad receivers Adam Thielen and KJ Osborn have been working right-to-left patterns at completely different depths and taking with them cornerbacks who needed to respect their skills to make performs. With Walker “in no man’s land” and Inexperienced Bay safeties struggling to course of all of what was taking place in entrance of them, the outcome was a remarkably empty space on the deep proper facet of the sphere, the place Jefferson hauled in a go and was capable of evade defenders nearer to the tip zone for a landing.

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

O’Connell additionally praised quarterback Kirk Cousins’s “innate feel” for stress on the play and willingness to “stand in there and deliver” a well-placed ball.

In his eleventh NFL season and fifth with the Vikings, Cousins might not be in the identical quarterback tier as Rodgers or the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, however he ranks third all-time in completion proportion. That accuracy can solely assist Jefferson’s quest, as does the presence of Professional Bowl working again Dalvin Cook dinner, who could make defenses pay for focusing an excessive amount of on stopping the go. That the Vikings play dwelling video games in a dome, stopping climate from changing into the late-season issue it may be in locations equivalent to Cleveland and Buffalo, additionally helps. Then, after all, there’s the truth that the NFL lengthened its schedule final 12 months to 17 video games.

After his 2022 marketing campaign started with a promisingly big quantity of yards, Jefferson reaffirmed with reporters that his objective is to achieve 2,000.

“No better way to start it off than with 180, right?” he stated with a smile.

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