Vikings

Jefferson's Campaign To Be the NFL's Best Receiver Begins On Sunday

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn (USA TODAY Sports)

To be the best, you need to beat the best. Justin Jefferson is undeniably a top-five or even top-three wide receiver in the NFL. However, few are ready to say he is No. 1. Davante Adams or Cooper Kupp are usually given that distinction.

However, the No. 1 spot is not completely out of reach for Jefferson. He needs to beat the best in the league to earn that distinction. And he’ll get that opportunity in the Minnesota Vikings’ season opener against the Green Bay Packers and Jaire Alexander, who is considered to be one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL.

Jefferson and Alexander have only played against each other once before, in Week 8 of 2020, Jefferson’s rookie year. Jefferson was in the middle of his breakout campaign, but Alexander still held him to three catches for 26 yards – hardly the numbers of an elite receiver. However, it has been over a year since that matchup because Alexander spent much of 2021 dealing with injury. Alexander is fully recovered for Week 1, though, providing a challenge for Jefferson and the offense.

Jefferson garnered mixed results against other top cornerbacks last season. In some games he has produced at a high level against stiff competition. He posted six catches for 84 yards and a touchdown against Denzel Ward and the Cleveland Browns. He registered eight receptions for 116 yards against Jalen Ramsey and the Los Angeles Rams. However, Jefferson has also occasionally struggled against top defenders. For example, he only recorded two catches for 21 yards against Trevon Diggs and the Dallas Cowboys.

This fluctuation in production is part of why Jefferson isn’t the best receiver in the league yet. He needs to show more consistency against shutdown corners. Players like Davante Adams and Cooper Kupp consistently showed up against challenging competition.

Alexander will likely follow Jefferson around the field on game day. It will undoubtedly be one of the key matchups to watch. The victor of this battle may very well determine the winner of the game. If Jefferson can have a standout performance, he will have a much stronger case for being the best in the league, especially if it leads to a Vikings victory.

That may be an easier task for Jefferson than in previous years. Under Mike Zimmer, the team was (allegedly) focused on defense, was more conservative and risk-averse. Kirk Cousins usually takes a safer approach to the passing game, checking it down on third-and-long to avoid a possible interception.

However, it often pays off when Cousins takes risks. Minnesota’s best two-week stretch last season came against the Los Angeles Charges and Green Bay Packers in Weeks 10 and 11. Cousins was pushing the ball downfield in those two games, throwing it into tight windows and delivering strikes under pressure.

Jefferson was the beneficiary, hauling in 15 catches for 312 yards and two touchdowns in that same span. The Vikings won both of those games. Kevin O’Connell may be able to unlock this version of Cousins permanently.

Jefferson’s campaign to be the top receiver begins on Sunday. He absolutely can thrive against tough competition. If he can consistently produce against the best of the best, he deserves to be seen as the best of the best.

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