Is Justin Jefferson the NFL’s Best WR? Or More than That?
Vikings Insider, The GM’s View
There is always a tendency after a phenomenal athletic performance or truly memorable game for everyone — media, fans, and even some players and coaches — to reach for hyperbole by saying this player or game or catch is the greatest ever.
That’s what is happening this week after the Vikings wild win in Buffalo, where superstar receiver Justin Jefferson had an amazing game punctuated by what is universally acknowledged as one of the best catches of all time.
So, I’m going to join the party as someone who has closely observed the best receivers in the NFL today and in Vikings history since I was either part of their teams or covering them in my media work. I also saw receiving GOAT Jerry Rice in person as he played many games against our Vikings teams. Here we go:
Question No. 1: Is Jefferson the best receiver in the NFL today? My answer — YES.
Jefferson made at least seven of his 10 catches in tight coverage on Sunday, and the 32-yarder on 4th-and-18 was a game-saver and remarkable (to use Kevin O’Connell’s description) with his leaping ability, body control, and strength to take the ball away with his right hand from the Bills defender who had two hands on the ball as they were in the air.
After his career-high 193 receiving yards in chilly Buffalo, Jefferson has 1,060 receiving yards this season, ranking second to Tyreek Hill, who has 88 more yards but has played one more game. Hill is on his bye this weekend, so Jefferson should surpass him on Sunday against the Cowboys.
Among current wide receivers, I believe Jefferson has the best overall skillset of size, speed, hands, route running, leaping ability, making contested catches, consistent production, blocking willingness, and ability (he made a great block to help spring Dalvin Cook on his 81 yard TD in Buffalo) and durability.
Jefferson has surpassed Hill, Davante Adams, and Cooper Kupp (now injured) in this discussion with Ja’Marr Chase, a receiver to watch down the road if he can shake off the injury bug that has bitten him this year. Stefon Diggs and A.J. Brown are terrific players, but they’re a step below this group.
Question No. 2: Is Jefferson the best player at any position in the NFL today? My answer — No, it’s Patrick Mahomes.
I would say Jefferson is the second-best player regardless of position, but as the top QB in the game today, Mahomes has to be No. 1 on this list because he touches the ball on every play, and he’s such a dynamic, creative playmaker (25 TD passes the league, great runner when he wants to be, terrific leader of the AFC’s top team).
Yes, other QBs may be more impactful than Jefferson, but as far as who is currently the best and most talented player, for me, it’s Mahomes and then Jefferson, with the Cowboys’ Micah Parsons not far behind with his defensive prowess.
Question No. 3: Is Jefferson the best receiver in Vikings history? My answer — currently tied with Randy Moss.
I saw Moss up close in his 17-TD Rookie of the Year season in 1998 during my last year as Vikings GM before I moved on to the Titans. Moss was faster than Jefferson, but ability and production-wise, they’re so close.
Moss also played at a Pro Bowl level for so many years (six-time selection), while Jefferson has made it in his first two years — and surely will this season. They both fit the description of elevating their team, which Moss did for our 15-1 Vikings team in 1998 and Jefferson is doing for this year’s 8-1 team. J.J. needs 88 receiving yards to pass Moss for the most all-time in an NFL player’s first three seasons.
At 23 years old, Jefferson could well surpass Moss in the final analysis if he has a long, healthy career and perhaps be in the discussion with Jerry Rice for the best all-time receiver. With Rice’s 1,549 catches for 22,895 yards, six times as NFL receiving yards leader, and 13 Pro Bowls over 20 seasons, Justin has a long way to go before he gets in that conversation, but from what we’ve seen in his first two and a half seasons (265 catches for 4,076 yards), how can we say it’s not possible?
The other two Vikings receivers who come in at No. 3 and No. 4 on my list are Cris Carter and Anthony Carter. Cris was an eight-time Pro Bowler and is the Vikings career receptions leader (1,004). He was a tremendous route runner, had outstanding hands, and was great along the sidelines and in the end zone. Anthony was a three-time Pro Bowler who was such an explosive receiver and a great punt returner.
Until Jefferson’s performance in Buffalo, I felt the best game by a Vikings wide receiver was Anthony Carter’s 10-catch, 227-yard receiving performance in our 1987 road upset win over the top-seeded 49ers in the NFC playoffs.
Now, I’ll call it a tie since A.C.’s great game came in a playoff win, but J.J.’s included so many contested catches, and his leaping, ball-stealing 32-yard game-saving catch is tied with the Giants’ David Tyree (the “helmet catch” in Super Bowl XLII) for the best catch I’ve ever seen.
Bonus Question: Was the Buffalo win the best in Vikings regular season history? My answer: No.
I agree it was the most exciting and drama-filled regular season game in team history that resulted in a victory with so many twists and turns (I thought the game was won and lost on several occasions).
But when we’re talking best regular season wins, the top two on my list are: 1980 vs. Cleveland at the old Met when Tommy Kramer’s Hail Mary to Ahmad Rashad won the game and the division title and 1998 at Lambeau Field when Randall Cunningham, Randy Moss, Cris Carter, and Jake Reed torched the Packers secondary in a 37-24 Monday night win that ended the Packers 25-game home winning streak and launched that Vikings team toward the 15-1 season.
That win over the Packers was a statement game as both teams came in at 4-0 and established the ’98 Vikings as a top team and Super Bowl contender, just as the Buffalo game has now done for this year’s Vikings.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl