The Minnesota Vikings’ 2020 offseason moves may be picked apart ad nauseum if their season continues going down its current path.
Why was the secondary not supplemented with some veterans? Why wasn’t the offensive line bolstered? And how did Everson Griffen slip away?
But if there’s any silver lining, the team’s single biggest move — a blockbuster trade of Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills — does not appear to be a root cause of the team’s 1-5 start. That has little to do with Diggs, who’s off to a 100-yard-per-game start in Buffalo. It has everything to do with his de facto replacement Justin Jefferson, who’s been not only one of the league’s most productive rookie receivers but one of the NFL’s top receivers, period.
“He’s a really good player,” head coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. “He loves football, he loves practicing, he loves to try to get better. He’s always asking Adam and the coaches about how to do things better, but the most impressive thing to me is the way he goes and gets the football. He’s got extremely strong hands and catches the ball in traffic as well as anybody I’ve seen.”
Jefferson is the No. 1-graded receiver in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus, where he also holds the top spot in yards per route run out of receivers with 30 or more targets. He’s third leaguewide in yards despite not starting in Weeks 1-2.
This is equal parts encouraging and exasperating. On one hand, the Vikings haven’t had to watch Diggs’ start in Buffalo with envious eyes now that they have a top-flight rookie putting up similar (or better) numbers at a fraction of the cost. And they received four additional draft picks in the deal (one in next year’s draft) who could turn into contributors. Yet swapping Diggs for an equally productive receiver hasn’t made enough difference to save the Vikings from a dismal start. Jefferson’s emergence has coincided with better offensive play, but mistakes by Kirk Cousins and blunders from a new-look defense have overshadowed Jefferson’s impact.
“I don’t do this personally, I don’t do this just for me,” Jefferson said. “I want to go out there and win games. I don’t like coming home with a loss. I’ve never been on a losing team. I just want our swagger back. This team is known for having that swagger and winning games, and I just want that old team back.”
Jefferson’s Griddy dance and electric playmaking in the early part of the season has brought some swagger to a Vikings team that has been otherwise lifeless. His presence has maintained the ‘wow’ factor that Diggs possessed during his five-year run with the Vikings, and he’s yet to produce a negative off-the-field headline.
The fiercely competitive Diggs made news in 2019 for the wrong reasons at times. He missed several non-mandatory offseason workouts, skipped practice after an ugly loss in Chicago Week 4 of last season and was often seen heated on the sideline when games weren’t going the Vikings’ way. Trade rumors followed Diggs around last season because of his apparent discontent about Minnesota’s offensive approach, and the Vikings followed through by shipping Diggs to the Bills for the pick that would eventually land them Jefferson.
Disgruntled fans were perturbed the Vikings didn’t try to smooth things over with their star wide receiver, the deliverer of the Minneapolis Miracle. But if Diggs were still in the building for a 1-5 start, he’d no doubt be atop the Vikings’ trade block with the deadline two weeks away, and who knows how well he’d be getting along with Cousins, Zimmer and Co.
Jefferson isn’t Diggs on the stardom meter yet — not after such a small sampling. But he’s shown the same level of skillfulness in each area where Diggs thrived. Deep passes? Jefferson leads the league in deep receptions. Slot play? Jefferson is second in yards per route run. Yards after catch average? Jefferson is fifth. Converting first downs? Jefferson is ninth.
The only knock is that Jefferson wasn’t given the chance to start the first two games.
So would the Vikings be any better off with Diggs? Doubtful. If anything, they might be 0-6.
“I only can control myself, but just trying to get the whole team our energy back, just trying to keep that energy high,” Jefferson said about the downtrodden team. “Not trying to hang the heads low and just trying to be positive. Of course, the season is not going as we want it to go and planned it to go, but it’s just what it is now. We just need to find a way to bounce back and get our energy going.”