An Area Where Justin Jefferson Can Still Grow

Dec 6, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) in the third quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Virtually every meaningful receiving stat is flattering to Justin Jefferson.

The 24-year-old has very quickly emerged as the NFL’s WR1, no small feat when we survey the talent at the position. Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, Stefon Diggs, Deebo Samuel, Ja’Marr Chase, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and A.J. Brown (among others) are all exceptional receivers. Jefferson surpasses them all.

Nov 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) and wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) and offensive tackle Blake Brandel (64) and teammates react during the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Fresh off the Offensive Player of the Year Award and an AP1 season in 2022, Jefferson enters Year 4 in the NFL looking to remove any doubt that he’s one of the league’s best overall players. Not just receivers, but players more broadly. He’s that good.

He can do so by taking a massive leap forward in a major stat category: touchdowns.

Justin Jefferson and The Area to Improve

Since exploding as a rookie, Jefferson has been compared to Randy Moss, the franchise legend who scored 17 times as a rookie. Each phenom stands out as wonderfully gifted players who excel for different reasons. The debate about which player is better will rage on for the foreseeable future, but one area is crystal clear: Moss was better at scoring touchdowns.

And, to be clear, there’s no shame in being worse than Moss at scoring. His last named even got turned into a separate term for elevating over a DB to still make the catch: getting Mossed. Clearly, the former Vikings receiver had some talent.

important day
Oct 17, 2010; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss (84) on the sidelines during the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at the Metrodome. The Vikings defeated the Cowboys 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

With Jefferson, there’s room for improvement as a scorer. Jefferson can and should make it a priority to score more for the Vikings. Moreover, Kevin O’Connell can and should make it a priority to help his WR1 shake loose just as Kirk Cousins can and should be looking in Jefferson’s direction near the endzone.

The positive thing is that Jefferson is by no means bad at scoring touchdowns. Take a peak at a couple examples from last season to see what he’s capable of doing:

Stephon Gilmore is an excellent corner, so juking him out of his cleats is certainly notable. And check out the finish on this long touchdown:

Again, Justin Jefferson doesn’t suffer from being bad at scoring touchdowns. After a trio of seasons in the NFL, he has put up 25 TDs, a total most Vikings fans would have been very pleased with coming out of the 2020 NFL Draft. Take a peak at how things look over the years:

  • 2020: 7 TDs
  • 2021: 10 TDs
  • 2022: 8 TDs

Perhaps the issue is simply that the standard is unbelievably high for #18. Last season’s 128 catches and 1809 receiving yards surpassed the great Cris Carter and Randy Moss for most in team history. For a while, it looked like Jefferson could surpass the all-time league mark for yards before eventually falling short. Simply being in contention for the top spot underscores just how excellent he was.

One does wonder, though, if we’ll see him push his touchdown totals to a new level. Adam Thielen, for instance, found a way of being an elite redzone option in Minnesota. In 2020 – Jefferson’s rookie season – Thielen hit 14 TDs.

Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) makes a touchdown reception against the New England Patriots during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Some of the league’s top wideouts do better in this area. Adams stands out since he’s quite possibly the only other receiver to actually be able to challenge Jefferson for top spot in the NFL. Over the past three seasons, Adams finds himself at 18 TDs, 10 TDs, and 14 TDs. With Adams, it’s all about the ferocious release off the line of scrimmage and then his precise route running.

In nine seasons in the NFL, Adams has hit double-digit touchdowns in six years. Truly a phenomenal player who hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down even as he marches into his 30s.

Nov 6, 2022; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams (17) and Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (13) wait for the snap during the first half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings are approaching a season when many expect them to take a step back. Truth be told, I similarly expect Minnesota to fall short of last year’s 13-4 record. Being able to defy the odds will involve several players raising their game to a new level (such as Garrett Bradbury, Josh Metellus, Josh Oliver, and Khyiris Tonga, among others). Jefferson scored 18 TDs in his final season at LSU. Can he climb to such heights with the Vikings? If he does, fantasy football managers are going to be very happy.

As hard as it is to believe, Justin Jefferson can keep getting better. If he turns into a top-tier redzone option, the Vikings’ offense will find climb to a new level, opening the potential for a better 2023 season than most expect.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Sports Reference CFB helped with this piece. This piece originally appeared on PurplePTSD.