As he enters his third season, Justin Jefferson is already undoubtedly one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. His combination of elite hands and route-running makes him singular among his peers. Jefferson is the whole package, and the Minnesota Vikings’ new front office will be putting him in the unique position to squeeze every ounce of talent from the budding superstar.
Now that that’s out of the way, I will be comparing Jefferson to three other top wide receivers in the league to set expectations for the upcoming season.
There are three offensive-minded Sean McVay disciples with head coaching jobs in the NFL: Matt LeFleur, Zac Taylor, and Kevin O’Connell. Including McVay, these four accounted for the most prolific offenses in the NFL last season. The newest trend in the NFL is hiring these offensive wunderkinds from L.A., and the Vikings were eager to follow suit.
Here’s where Jefferson comes in. It just so happens that the top four receiving yards leaders last season come from the four franchises mentioned above. Interestingly, the Vikings were the only ones without a McVay disciple, until now. But now that they have O’Connell, what kind of production can we expect from Jefferson? There’s nowhere to go but up, right?
Since there’s not much evidence to go off of for O’Connell as a head coach up to this point, it’s worth comparing next season’s offense to his former peers’ offenses. For Jefferson, that means comparing him to their WR1s, particularly Kupp – O’Connell’s WR1 last year. Naturally, the national media has started to compare Jefferson to Kupp in the new Vikings offense.
When I watch Kupp, I see slight similarities to Jefferson. I think it’s fair to say Jefferson is the more technical route-runner, but Kupp is better after the catch. He’s just more physical. Also, Kupp gets a lot more action in the red zone because Adam Thielen takes snaps away from Jefferson. But comparing these two is not fair because they are very different wide receivers.
Kupp is primarily a slot receiver, and Jefferson isn’t. Given their skillsets, it makes sense to compare them. However, because they play different positions, I’m not so sure the ratio of receptions to yards will ever quite match up between the two. Of course, that’s okay. It just means that Jefferson has averaged fewer catches but more yards per reception. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. However, there’s a chance that could change in a new scheme because Jefferson played primarily out of the slot in college.
Adams is the best comparison for Jefferson of the three receivers mentioned above. Jefferson’s style of play looks a lot more like Adams’, except he’s not quite as polished. Adams makes every catch look flawless and floats after the catch. Jefferson? Not so much. But that doesn’t mean he’s a worse receiver. That’s just his route-running style.
They also just play similar roles on the offense. Yes, the Green Bay Packers had Adams and no true WR2, while the Vikings had their 1a and 1b with Jefferson and Thielen. But Jefferson has already become the de facto No. 1 receiver, and Aaron Rodgers can make any receiver look better than they are.
Adams is still the better receiver right now, even though he had fewer yards than Jefferson last season. But Thielen is older, and Jefferson is in an offense designed to get him the ball more often. He’ll get a bigger route tree and more opportunities to run after the catch. Volume is one of the reasons Adams is still seen as the more successful receiver.
Like Jefferson, Chase is a young receiver from LSU who has become one of the best wideouts in the league. As a rookie, Chase managed to edge out Jefferson’s record for yards as a first-year player one year Jefferson set it. Still, Chase had an extra game to work with, and Zimmer sat Jefferson for the first three games of his career.
Chase is exceptionally talented, but Jefferson still has the edge as a true WR1. Chase tends to run more simple routes. He’s often running streaks down the sideline, and Joe Burrow will just chuck it. Something they probably learned from Patrick Mahomes’ F*** it, Tyreek Hill is down there somewhere strategy.
If it works, it works, but that’s not something Jefferson can do. Chase has some things to work out in his game, but he’s undoubtedly a premier receiver, just not one that has much of an edge on Jefferson, especially considering the crazy depth the Cincinnati Bengals have at receiver behind him. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are an exceptional pair behind Chase. Either of them could be WR1s on a team with an opportunity.
What does comparing Jefferson to the best receivers in the league tell us? Well, Jefferson is probably going to have a new role in Minnesota’s offense. It wouldn’t surprise me if he gets even better stats than last season – his first full season starting.
Jefferson, Kupp, Adams, and Chase averaged 1,642 with 12.5 touchdowns. That’s not an unreasonable standard for Jefferson because he’s almost certainly going to get more volume this year.
Earlier in the year, I compared O’Connell to LeFleur and Taylor to better understand what to expect from the Vikings’ new coach. I think it’s wise to set reasonable expectations early, to avoid being unreasonably critical. Jefferson might not break the yardage record or end up with 20 touchdowns. But if he’s still leading the league in yards per reception and efficiency, then it’s hard to argue that he isn’t among the best in the league for years to come.