Justin Jefferson Is About To Take Flight

Photo Credit: Jerome Miron (USA TODAY Sports)

After losing Rookie of the Year to Justin Herbert, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson swore he would come back an even better player, looking to build off his record-setting campaign. Jefferson has proven to be that guy every week, the perfect replacement to the much-maligned Stefon Diggs. However, he still hasn’t had his signature game of 2021 yet. This Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys is shaping up to be that game.

Last year, Jefferson’s signature game was his big breakout in Week 3. He tallied seven receptions for 175 yards and a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans. He also had games where he put up 166 yards and 135 yards. Jefferson leads the league in 100-yard games since he entered the NFL, one more than Diggs.

Through six games, Jefferson had totaled 542 yards and three touchdowns. He has two 100-yard games under his belt and has been the consistent top receiver the Vikings could ask for — for the most part.

The biggest concern with Jefferson’s game this season has been his drops. Last year, Jefferson had just four drops all season, according to Pro Football Focus. This year, he already has four through six games.

While he leads the team in first downs, his drops have mostly come at bad times. The worst was on the final drive back in Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals:

By the numbers, Jefferson is getting his targets this season, a big topic of discussion last year. But it doesn’t always seem like he is being utilized to his full potential. Take the Vikings’ Week 5 matchup against the Detroit Lions. In the first half of that game, Jefferson had five receptions for 104 yards; it seemed like he would have a chance to break his career-high.

He had very favorable matchups against Lions’ cornerbacks Amani Oruwariye and Jerry Jacobs. However, Jefferson saw only two targets for 20 yards in the second half. It is hard to envision that, even with the Lions playing bracket coverage, they could completely take him out of the game, given the caliber of their players.

The Vikings’ offense stalled in the second half of the Lions game. They depended too much on the run when their ground game wasn’t efficient. Alexander Mattison, spelling the formerly injured Dalvin Cook, averaged a mere 2.7 yards per carrying when you subtract his big 48-yard run.

Even with Cook now healthy, the Vikings enter a minefield of games in which they play four Super Bowl contenders with great offenses. Some of these could turn into shootouts. They can’t always play Mike Zimmer’s style of football in which they control the clock and don’t score lots of points. They need to depend on their passing attack, and they have the players to do it.

It almost seems inevitable that Jefferson explodes in the coming weeks, but this week presents the best-case matchup. Jefferson gets to go up against Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs on Sunday night, who has earned his fair share of criticism this season. Diggs leads the NFL in interceptions (seven in six games) and is a natural ballhawk. His critics argue that, while he is good at forcing turnovers, he gets beat all too often for this to matter.

This is true: Diggs leads the NFL in penalties and has allowed the most 35-plus-yard receptions. While on-pace stats rarely come to fruition for any position, it is also fair to note that he is on pace to allow the most yards in an NFL season (the 17-game schedule enhances this as well).

The Cowboys’ other starting cornerback is Anthony Brown. The Vikings have had their way with him in the past, dating back to last year’s matchup. With Sunday almost definitely shaping up to be a shootout, Minnesota will have to throw the rock, paving the way for Jefferson’s 2021 breakout game.

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