Even after a historic rookie campaign, Justin Jefferson will be looking to build upon his accomplishments. After breaking the rookie record for receiving yards in a season and making the Pro Bowl, Jefferson is looking to establish consistency.
General managers and coaches are always anxious to get a rookie going right away, given the draft capital they put into young players and how important they are to a team’s success. But Jefferson already got over that hump. He’s exceeded expectations and proven himself to be one of the best wide receivers in the league.
Jefferson looks like the next great Vikings receiver, and his rookie numbers were famously comparable to Randy Moss’. So what can he glean from the Hall of Famer who spent eight seasons in purple and gold?
Let’s start here: Jefferson can learn how to become a consistent threat from Moss. No. 84 tore up the NFL as a rookie in 1998, much in the same fashion as Jefferson did a season ago. What sets Moss apart, and what Jefferson can take from him, is the ability to harness this hot start and become more than an anomaly.
Jefferson took advantage of being an underrated rookie who went late in the first round and played behind the frequently targeted Adam Thielen. By starting his career as the second option behind Thielen, he was able to get open and kickstart his 1,400-yard season. Now that teams will have to game-plan for him every week, he can expect to be the focus of defensive schemes or at least garner attention from the league’s best cornerbacks.
Jefferson’s breakout was similar to Moss’s in many ways. Both experienced success in college: Jefferson won a national title, and Moss was a two-time All-American. They also were passed over early in the first round: Moss went 21st overall in 1998, and Jefferson went 22nd last year. They also joined a Vikings team with a bonafide No. 1 receiver: Moss was the No. 2 behind Cris Carter, just like Jefferson lined up opposite Thielen.
Moss generated a fear factor in opposing defenses because every time he touched the ball, it seemed like he had a chance to score. But, of course, not all breakout rookies back up their play in their second season. So Jefferson’s next step is establishing himself as a scoring threat early on, even though there’s tape on him.
The fear that Moss put into opposing players is the stuff of legend. “He was like Mike Tyson,” former running back Robert Smith told Bleacher Report. “He’d beat you before you even faced him. I’ve never heard defensive players talk the way they talked about him.
“I shouldn’t say that; there’s one other player who was like that: Barry Sanders. It’s like they knew they were inadequate to perform the job they were supposed to do against those two. They just couldn’t do it. There was no way athletically to get the job done.”
Moss has paved the way for Jefferson. He surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first six seasons and 10 times in his 14-year career. Jefferson (4.43 40-yard dash) is a touch slower than Moss (4.20), and Jefferson doesn’t quite have the same game-breaking speed, so it is not as though Jefferson replicated Moss’s numbers by playing Moss’s game. But it’s worth mentioning that the modern game was patterned in many ways from the 1998 Vikings. Jefferson is a direct descendant of the style of play that Carter, Moss, Jake Reed, and Randall Cunningham brought into the mainstream.
While Jefferson’s play is different from Randy’s, we can’t argue that they don’t come from the same mold. Jefferson won’t be sprinting past the secondary like a ball of light and scorching secondaries with game-altering speed. However, he has a knack for getting open, has sure hands, and is an elite route runner.
Jefferson has already proven himself as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. But to continue his ascendance among the game’s best, his greatest asset will be to continue to strike fear into opposing defenses. Then, of course, there are circumstances outside of his control, like his teammates and the schedule. But even as Moss’s quarterbacks and teammates changed during his time in the NFL, his gameplay rarely lagged.
Jefferson needs to emulate Moss’s swagger and consistency if he wants to continue his rise as one of the best players in the NFL.