If there was one person out in Vikings media constantly bemoaning the Minnesota Vikings’ number one pick from the 2020 NFL Draft, it was me. Well, to be fair, a lot of people bemoaned that pick at the time (as in, directly after the pick), but after a day or two of watching tape and fearing the wrath of Vikings fans who were elated by the 15-pick haul, I was pretty much the only person left pointing out that the Vikings had yet again reached for a receiver from the SEC in the early 20’s that was as big a one-trick pony during his final season at LSU as he was suddenly the most “pro-ready” receiver in the draft.
Then camp hit and we heard conflicting stories about how Justin Jefferson knew the offense so well that Gary Kubiak and company were lining him up all over the field. Then we also heard that he hadn’t outplayed the second-team defense/corners as well as “hoped”. That seemed like a red flag to me, as we all know who the starters have been these first three weeks, so I wondered why a first-round pick who broke all sorts of records in 2019 at LSU, wasn’t dominating against players like three orange cones stacked into a small pyramid and a cardboard cutout of Antoine Winfield that was held up with a broom.
Relax, people said, it’s early, people said. But those were labels (“Pro Ready”) existed for Laquon Treadwell, as did some early red flags (although Treadwell’s were of the dropsie variety). So, when Jefferson was virtually non-existent during the disastrous opening gameS this season, I had to openly wonder “Where the hell is Jefferson?”.
When you have a game like you did against the Colts, in which Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins could really only trust Adam Thielen (or think he could only trust him) after drops by Olabisi Johnson, Kyle Rudolph, etc. Why not, you know, use more of your “Pro Ready”/”Offensive mastermind” first-round draft pick at a position that clearly needed someone, anyone, to step up.
Then Jeffersons stepped up.
The story early last Sunday was that the team wanted to “ease” Jefferson into the offense, as they didn’t want to overload him with the lack of a pre-season this year. Regardless of how we got here, everyone in Vikingsland rejoiced Sunday with a breakout game by Jefferson that reminded many of us of the breakout game that Randy Moss had against the Packers during Monday Night Football.
9 catches. 175 yards. 1 touchdown for 71 yards.
Welcome to the league, big fella.
I’ve said a few times in the past few months that I hold myself accountable. I take pride in that, as I feel like there’s not a ton of that in our industry and to be honest, you’re going to be wrong A LOT when making predictions about a sport with as many variables as the sports we call ze football.
But, you have to give me some slack here. Because, from what I’ve seen, people are asking where the hell Justin Jefferson has been the first two weeks of the season and that’s a very valid question. Knowing what we know now, it seems like a gigantic mistake by Kubiak and company, but at the time… It felt like there had to be more to the story.
Because Jefferson ran free out of the slot in 2019, I theorized that he was having issues acclimating to press coverage in the NFL. He wouldn’t be the first to do so, even if he had monstrous stats from the position in 2019. Because, if he knew the offense, as well as people, said he did, and he was healthy, then there had to be a reason.
Now that we know the reason was that they just didn’t want to acclimate him TOO FAST? In weeks where the passing offense could’ve used a ton of help from Jefferson or anyone, that seems like a really bad decision.
I’m not saying that I’m therefore free from any ridicule for thinking that Jefferson, like Treadwell, and Cordarelle Patterson, or Sidney Rice, or Percy Harvin, before him, would be a bust. Even though he appears to finally be the first-round wide receiver (from the SEC) to actually be able to A) Catch B) Run C) Catch while Running D) Get a contract beyond his rookie deal (barring a trade). The aforementioned receivers that Spielman took before Jefferson failed all four of those tests, but as they say, a broken clock is right at least twice a day and apparently, a broken general manager is right at least once every decade-plus.
So, I’m elated that the Vikings found a receiver that may… Gasp… even be better than the one he replaced in Stefon Diggs. That’d be a huge upgrade for this team as they’d be free of Digg’s melancholy, and instead, have a young receiver who loves to show off and dance. I’m elated that this Vikings offense could, with a decent offensive line (*cough* Josh Kline *cough*), actually put up some points this season (and next).
And mostly, I’m elated that I was wrong about Jefferson.