Justin Jefferson’s start in the NFL compares well to great WRs
By: Reese Nasser
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson is coming off of one of the greatest rookie seasons ever. Throughout his first year in the NFL, Jefferson performed at a high level nearly every week.
Many people also believed that the receiver was deserving of the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, which hasn’t been won by a wide receiver since 2014 when Odell Beckham Jr. won the award.
His impact on the Vikings have already led people to question just how good he can be in this league. The duo of Jefferson and veteran receiver Adam Thielen was arguably the best one-two punch in the entire NFL. The pair combined for 162 receptions, 2325 yards, and 21 touchdowns. They were a pivotal piece in the success of not just the Vikings offense, but to the team as a whole.
When looking at what Jefferson achieved in his first season, it is hard to not compare him and his accomplishments to that of other great receivers. From Odell Beckham Jr. and Deandre Hopkins to Stefon Diggs and Randy Moss, we will take a look at how Jefferson’s first year stacks up against each of these players.
Jefferson in Year One
Before comparing Jefferson to the elite wide receivers of the NFLs past and present, you first have to look at what he accomplished in his first season.
Jefferson had one of the greatest rookie performances ever seen. He caught 88 passes on 125 targets and went for exactly 1400 receiving yards. He also turned this into seven touchdowns.
Jefferson excelled at different things during his rookie season but there were two areas that stood out the most; his route running abilities and what he was able to do after he got the ball in his hands.
Jefferson excelled at gaining yards after catch in college. He was able to bring that same success to the NFL.
His strong route running also transitioned to the NFL. From his first day in the NFL, his ability to get open has been clear. He can create separation at the line of scrimmage and get away from his primary defender, whoever it may be.
Jefferson’s strong rookie season led him to join elite company. He is seen as one of the top talents in the NFL and was voted to the Pro Bowl. He was just the fifth rookie receiver to be voted into the game in the last 20 seasons, and the first since 2015.
When Jefferson first arrived in Minnesota, many people believed that he would not be able to live up to the standards that had been set by Stefon Diggs. The two players were basically traded for one another.
Even with being in two very different situations, the two receivers produced somewhat similar numbers.
Outside of nearly 40 more receptions, the two receivers kept pace with each other. Jefferson averaged almost four more yards per reception while Diggs averaged almost 8.5 more yards per game.
Both receivers had elite stat lines on almost a weekly basis as well. They were two of the most productive all around receivers in the league and came to play every week.
Until one of the two receivers retires, their careers will be linked. They will constantly be linked with one another and the comparisons will continue.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Odell Beckham Jr. rookie season may be the best comparison, from a stat standpoint, for Jefferson. Neither receiver was expected to make the impact that they did in their first season yet both were able to make an instant impact.
Outside of both being products of LSU, the two players are very similar from an athletic standpoint.
From a statistical standpoint, the two receivers produced nearly similar numbers in their rookie seasons.
The similarities from the players are clear, but the edge should fall towards Odell, only because he played in just 12 games his rookie season, unlike Jefferson who appeared in all 16. Even so, the two receivers recorded two of the greatest rookie seasons the league has ever seen. Jefferson could soon find himself on a path very similar to that of Odell’s.
Deandre Hopkins has turned into a superstar. He is arguably the best receiver in the NFL and has been held to this regard for a couple years now. But it was not always like this.
Hopkins wasn’t chosen until near the end of the first round. The Houston Texans selected him with the 27th overall pick.
In his first year in the NFL, Hopkins’ production was less than outstanding. He caught 52 passes and crossed just over 800 receiving yards. He also scored just two times during his rookie season.
While Hopkins is often regarded as a big receiving target, he is not much bigger than Jefferson. Both receivers are the same height and Hopkins outweighs Jefferson by just 10 pounds.
From a production standpoint, Hopkins rookie season is drastically different than that of Jeffersons. Jefferson and Hopkins had just a .5 difference in yards per reception, but the similarities end there. Jefferson gained 600 more yards, five more touchdowns, and caught 36 more passes
When looking at how good Hopkins has become, it offers an interesting insight to see how he performed in his first season. Jefferson was able to produce stats that were not all that far off from Hopkins’ even best seasons.
Since Jefferson first exploded onto the scene in a week three game against the Tennessee Titans, the comparisons to Randy Moss have not stopped; from the flashiness of their play to how they have stood out on the field.
In 1998, Moss had arguably the greatest season ever for a rookie wide receiver. He started just 11 games for the Vikings but, much like Jefferson, made an instant impact in Minnesota. Moss had just 69 receptions but was still able to gain 1313 receiving yards. He also caught 17 touchdowns, a record that still stands for rookie receivers, over twenty years later.
Moss held nearly every rookie receiving record in Minnesota. And then Jefferson came and broke almost all of them. Jefferson now holds the records for both receptions and yards in a season.
The Future for Jefferson
Jefferson has already exceeded expectations in his short time in the NFL. Year one went almost as good as it could have gone, especially when considering that he is sharing a ball with Adam Thielen. He was able to have one of the greatest seasons ever for a rookie receiver.
Jefferson is already being compared to some of the NFL’s best. If he is able to continue to perform at a high level, the comparisons will continue.
For years, all rookie receivers will be held in comparison to Jefferson, and that may prove to be unfair for them. Production like that is rare and hard to come by.
His sophomore season could prove to be even better. Jefferson has already proven to have the drive to want to be the best and he is on a path headed towards that. After receiving a Pro Bowl nod in year one, he could find himself on an All-Pro team in year two.