How Vikings’ Justin Jefferson will attempt to keep away from a sophomore droop


EAGAN, Minn. — Nothing went as anticipated for Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson as a rookie in 2020.

His NFL profession started within the midst of a pandemic that prevented him from a standard offseason. He didn’t have lengthy to construct chemistry with Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins or be taught the ins and outs of being a Professional Bowl vast receiver from Adam Thielen.

He absorbed a playbook just about and didn’t have a preseason recreation to check the waters. Coping with the fluid panorama that got here with COVID-19 interruptions and distractions threw wrench after wrench into his plans.

Jefferson didn’t even begin till Week 3 of the 2020 season, but he nonetheless carried out at a file tempo. The Vikings’ 2020 first-rounder had a historic rookie season, breaking decades-long franchise data held by Corridor of Famer Randy Moss. He completed with 1,400 receiving yards, probably the most by any rookie within the Tremendous Bowl period (since 1966).

So when Jefferson, 22, talks concerning the expectations to high final season, it’s no shock that the challenges of 2020 are the catalyst behind his self-assurance.

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“To be sincere, my confidence,” Jefferson stated about what is going to assist him fight a sophomore droop. “Me having the season I had final yr with so many various inconveniences. Now going into this yr, having an entire yr with Kirk and the remainder of the fellows on this staff, I really feel far more assured. I really feel like I’m going to do much more, higher than I did final yr.”

These inconveniences didn’t sluggish Jefferson. By the midway level of the 2020 season, he had put up three 100-yard receiving video games. Inexperienced Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur dubbed Jefferson a No. 1 receiver earlier than he suited up for the eighth recreation of his NFL profession, and reward from different coaches and gamers across the league ensued, usually within the type of added consideration from defenders.

In accordance with NFL Subsequent Gen Stats, 606 of Jefferson’s 1,400 receiving yards got here in opposition to press protection (lower than a 3-yard cushion), probably the most by any participant final season. He made it robust for corners to cowl him one-on-one, recording 100 or extra yards on seven completely different routes.

It’s among the many first issues Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson observed about Jefferson, whom he has recognized because the receiver was a preteen.

“He runs his routes like a savvy vet,” Peterson stated. “He makes every part look the identical. Most younger guys cannot try this. I do not know if it is coming from LSU, being coached the correct method, however he is a man like once I first received right here, he is a professional. When you’ve a man that comes into the league at that age and will get it straight away, he’ll be very particular.

“I consider it may be type of troublesome to attempt to cowl him in a different way this yr. You simply must roll the punches and hope he drops them.”

So what’s in retailer for Jefferson in Yr 2? Over the previous 10 seasons, 9 receivers completed with no less than 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie. Six of the earlier eight (excluding Jefferson) had 1,000 yards once more of their second season.

Groups took discover as Jefferson developed into probably the most productive receivers within the league, averaging the second-most receiving yards per route run final season (2.76), behind the Packers’ Davante Adams, in accordance with ESPN Stats & Data.

Even with the expectations that include these numbers, the Vikings aren’t anticipating Jefferson’s manufacturing to degree off. Within the conventional sense – receiving stats – these numbers would possibly dip, however being the perfect receiver on the sphere may imply Jefferson is absorbing protection to unlock others.

“I do not assume he’ll have any regression or no matter that’s as a result of he is in an incredible mind set out right here,” coach Mike Zimmer stated. “He runs, he loves enjoying soccer, he is operating nice routes. What’s gonna occur, although, is these groups are in all probability going to begin rolling protection to him, double protection to him, so in a few of these situations, he simply cannot get pissed off as a result of that is occurring. Nevertheless it’s an excellent factor, if he understands that he’s actually serving to the staff an terrible lot.

“Now, his numbers is perhaps higher or worse, I do not know, however he is serving to the staff as a result of a type of guys that is doubling him now is not within the field for [running back Dalvin] Cook dinner to run in opposition to or in opposition to [tight end] Irv Smith or in opposition to Thielen to go one-on-one with. So he wants to know that, and we’re engaged on a few of these issues, clearly not the primary day, however as we begin getting going right here slightly bit extra. A part of it’s simply him understanding that regardless that they’re double-covering me, I am serving to this soccer staff.”

The way in which Jefferson carried out underneath probably the most uncommon circumstances as a rookie offers teammates confidence {that a} repeat is feasible. In any case, if he put up a historic season with all these inconveniences, what can he do in a extra regular season?

“If he had been to have the very same season he had final yr and do it like 12 or 13 occasions, he’s in all probability going to Canton, I might guess,” Cousins stated. “I’m not saying that to place strain on him. I’m simply saying if you discuss ‘what’s the subsequent step?’ it’s not altering who he’s, it’s doing it once more. After which doing it once more, after which doing it once more, and I believe it’s extra about consistency than it’s about altering.

“So the problem in soccer, and I’ve seen it occur in my journey watching guys going again to Michigan State, is simply don’t simply be a one-year marvel, don’t simply be a flash for a pair years, don’t simply be somebody who has an excellent run. Be somebody who can maintain it, and I believe that’ll be the problem.”

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