Justin Jefferson Wins the First of Many Awards

Somebody Was Out
Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) celebrates the win against the Indianapolis Colts after the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. With the win, the Minnesota Vikings clinched the NFC North. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

When the Minnesota Vikings selected Justin Jefferson in the first round of the 2020 draft, no one expected him to become the best receiver in the league in only three years. However, that is exactly what he did.

Jefferson is on a record-breaking pace to start his career, and the list of current and former players praising the superstar is endless. Jefferson won his first award, and more could be underway in the next few weeks.

Justin Jefferson Wins the First of Many Awards

Justin Jefferson Wins First of Many Awards
Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) warms up wearing a shirt honoring Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin (3) before the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

The Pro Football Writers of America awarded Jefferson the NFL Offensive Player of the Year accolade. While that is not the official Offensive Player of the Year honor from the Associated Press, it’s a meaningful award. Nine of the last ten winners of the recognition have also won the AP trophy. The only PFWA winner who didn’t win both in the last decade was Lamar Jackson in 2019, who saw Michael Thomas receive the honors.

The Vikings’ phenom led the league in receiving yards and receptions in the 2022 campaign and became the youngest in NFL history to do so, breaking an 86-year-old record. Before him, no Vikings receiver led the NFL in receiving yards in a single season. Not even Randy Moss or Cris Carter managed to do that.

He is the clear focal point of the offense. All opponents line up their top cornerback across from Jefferson and bring safety help on most plays. Still, the Vikings’ receiver gained 1,809 receiving yards, the sixth-best in a single season ever.

Justin Jefferson Absolutely Deserves Award Recognition
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings will have to pay big money to keep Jefferson on the team long-term. He is eligible for a contract extension as soon as this offseason. The franchise will likely pick up his fifth-year option and then negotiate the next contract. He is the face of the franchise, and the Vikings would be foolish to let him walk out the door.

The current top wide receiver contracts are Tyreek Hil’s, who is getting paid $120 million over a four-year stretch, and Davante Adams, with $140 million over five years. Both deals were signed last offseason and reset the market for wideouts.

Jefferson is every bit as good as the two, but he is five and seven years younger and, therefore, has all the leverage he needs to become the highest-paid non-quarterback in football. His production is unprecedented, as he is the player with the most receiving yards in the first three career seasons by a wide margin.

That new deal could lead to some complications with the cap space, especially if the Vikings still employ quarterback Kirk Cousins or another highly-paid passer when Jefferson’s cap hit spikes in a couple of years. A quarterback on a rookie deal could be a better alternative on the financial side.

Justin Jefferson Said
Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) runs after a catch during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings superstar was named to the first All-Pro team for the first time in his career after only receiving second-team honors in his first two campaigns. The All-Pro nomination was unanimous. In addition to that, Jefferson was voted to the Pro Bowl. in each of his three career seasons. Leaguewide, Jefferson is well-respected. He is part of the five finalists for league MVP.

That award is mainly a quarterback award nowadays. The last non-quarterback to win it was Vikings’ legendary running back Adrian Peterson in 2012. A wide receiver has never won MVP. The favorites are, of course, the quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts, and Josh Allen. The wide receiver is seemingly making fun of the quarterback bias.

Interestingly, Jefferson’s numbers could even look better in the future if the team puts the right pieces around him. A speedy receiver, or a better second receiver in general, could take some pressure off of him and help him continue his record-breaking pace.

He combines the necessary athleticism with elite body control and route-running ability to be always open. But even if he’s not, he can make circus catches as he did in Buffalo.

Jefferson can very well be called a generational talent.

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