Although their season concluded a month ago, the Minnesota Vikings somehow found a way to lose this weekend. During the NFL honors ceremony on Saturday, rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson lost in a landslide for the Rookie of the Year award.
I get it. It might be the most pointless award in the NFL. But the fact that Jefferson had the best rookie season for a wideout in the modern era and only received nine of the 50 votes is a travesty. While Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers also had an incredible season, I believe that Jefferson deserved to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
The few Chargers fans who are left will tell you that every analyst disrespected Herbert before the draft, but he still was a top 10 pick. Sure, ESPN’s Domonique Foxworth said Herbert could potentially be one of the biggest mistakes of the draft. But Herbert still went sixth overall, and there were rumors that people in the Miami Dolphins’ front office liked him more than Tua Tagovailoa.
Jefferson was a much different case. Despite being a focal point in possibly the best college offense in history, Jefferson was somehow an afterthought. Everyone started with Joe Burrow when they talked about the LSU offense. Even when they discussed their wide receivers, almost all of the praise went to the 2020 Biletnikoff winner Ja’Marr Chase. Despite totaling 1540 yards on 111 catches, they considered him a second-tier wideout behind Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, and CeeDee Lamb.
Jefferson was considered a slot-only receiver going into the draft — 109 of his 111 catches as a junior came from the slot — which in part caused him to fall. While Herbert was the third quarterback taken, Jefferson was the fifth wideout off the board.
Also, consider that it was clear that the Chargers were going to move on from Philip Rivers, 39, and an aging Rivers wasn’t exactly the most difficult act to follow. Jefferson, on the other hand, had nothing but pressure since the moment he joined the Vikings.
After Stefon Diggs forced his way out of Minnesota, there was a gaping hole in the offense. The Vikings selected Jefferson with the pick they got from the Buffalo Bills in the Diggs trade, intent on drafting his heir apparent. It’s something that burned them when they traded Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders and drafted Troy Willamson with the pick they got back.
Jefferson out-produced Diggs’s best seasons in purple and gold despite this immense pressure, drawing praise from Diggs himself.
Chargers fans will point to this graphic as the reason why Herbert deserved OROY:
While I’m not arguing that Herbert wasn’t also deserving, I would like to point out that some of them favor Jefferson on further inspection of these numbers.
Jefferson finished 16th in receptions and fourth in yards despite not starting the first two games of the season. These statistics showcase his ability to create a big play every time he touched the ball. On a run-first offense, Jefferson was still able to make the most of his opportunities. He broke both Moss’ franchise record for receiving yards by a rookie and the league record for rookie receiving yards.
Even the advantage for yards per game should lean to Jefferson. Despite barely seeing the field in the first two games, he was able to put himself in the same breath as Moss.
When Austin Eckler missed a majority of the season due to injury, Herbert had to be a high-volume passer, and he succeeded as a quarterback in a pass-first scheme. But Jefferson grew as a wideout in a run-first offense where he had limited opportunities.
Both of these players had great years, and each has a strong case for the award, but I believe Jefferson deserved it because the Vikings scheme didn’t cater to him, and he was able to immediately replace Diggs’ production. Herbert won by a 41-9 margin, which is disgraceful and is way too wide of a margin given these two players’ outputs.
While Jefferson didn’t come away with the award, he earned almost everyone’s respect and admiration. From opposing defensive coordinators who double-teamed him, to the wideout he replaced, to the two greatest basketball players of all time in LeBron James and Michael Jordan, nobody has anything bad to say about him.
And if his Twitter is any indication, he’s just getting started.