Justin Jefferson’s Stats without Dalvin Cook Are Stunning

Madden 23 Unveils Full Minnesota Vikings Ratings
Jun 7, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (4) and wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

There have been some wild takes about the best Vikings player in the last few weeks. At first, a Packers writer claimed that Christian Watson’s potential is higher than Justin Jefferson’s – an outrageous opinion.

Justin Jefferson’s Stats without Dalvin Cook Are Stunning

A few days later, Jefferson wasn’t included in Keyshawn Johnson’s list of the top five receivers. No matter how bad those two instances were, Pat McAfee may still have topped them.

Are Stunning
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) in action during the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The rising star in the NFL entertainment business, Pat McAfee, host of The Pat McAfee Show, talked about former Viking Dalvin Cook. It was supposed to compliment Cook’s abilities but turned into a slap in the face of wideout Jefferson.

In McAfee’s opinion, Cook is still an elite player in football, and it is absurd that he is even available. He downplayed the impact of Jefferson on the offense and implied that Cook was still the focal point of the Vikings in 2022: “Dalvin Cook was their offense, like the reason why I think Justin Jefferson has [that kind of production] is because Dalvin Cook is in the backfield.”

The former punter is either not informed of how the Vikings operated in the 2022 season, or he lied. It was not only a Jefferson-first offense. It was also a pass-first unit. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Chargers ran the ball fewer times in the 2022 campaign than the Vikings.

There are obvious reasons for it. Firstly, Kevin O’Connell – head coach and paly-caller – prefers a pass-heavy attack. There is nothing wrong with it, but the tendency is obvious. It became even more apparent on third down when he rarely trusted the rushing offense to pick up short-yardage situations and had Kirk Cousins drop back to throw the ball.

Another Nugget Enters
Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (4) looks on after the game against the Indianapolis Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium. With the win, the Minnesota Vikings clinched the NFC North. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

That brings us to the second reason. The passing offense was simply more efficient than the running game. According to run EPA/Play, the Vikes ranked 29th in the NFL, while the passing offense ranked 10th. In 2021, the Vikings’ running game ranked 24th.

To refer to McAfee’s point, it is possible that the running attack was only bad because the opponents focused on Cook – but that was not the case. Defenses sold out to stop Jefferson by putting multiple defenders on him at all times.

The former Colts special teamer thinks Cook helped Jefferson, but the numbers suggest differently. Jefferson played in six games in his career without the running back. In those six contests, Jefferson fired up a stat line of 53 catches for 839 yards and four touchdowns. To illustrate how much production that is, let’s scale it up to a 17-game season, which equals a receiving line of 150-2377-11.

Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports.

Just a reminder, those are the games in which Jefferson supposedly struggled because the defense couldn’t focus on Cook, but instead, he would set the all-time single-season record in receptions and yards.

There is a reason why the Vikings let go of Cook, and Jefferson is coming off a season in which he won Offensive Player of the Year. Cook certainly has something left in the tank, but he is no Jefferson. The days of the Vikes fielding a run-first offense are long gone, and it is time for analysts to recognize that fact.

The 24-year-old will now get a full season without Cook on the field to prove McAfee wrong.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt