While the NFL continues to trend more towards air raid offenses and high scoring affairs, it’s still been a rarity for a wide receiver to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Only three wide receivers have won the award in the past 21 seasons — with the last coming five years ago. Minnesota Vikings first-rounder Justin Jefferson may have the best chance of any wideout to take the crown this year.
NFL Network’s Lance Zierlein listed his top-10 Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates list and liked Jefferson’s odds among wide receivers, ranking him the second-highest wide receiver and No. 7 overall.
Here’s what Zierlein had to say about Jefferson’s odds:
Jefferson was good in 2018, but he was great in 2019, showing off improved route running and impeccable ball skills. He steps into a pretty good situation, taking over for the departed Stefon Diggs in a role that should feature accurate, catchable throws coming his way from Kirk Cousins. Adam Thielen should return healthy after a hamstring injury slowed him last season, and Dalvin Cook — assuming he does not end up holding out — appears to be the focal point of the offense, but there should still be plenty of action coming Jefferson’s way as the WR2 in Gary Kubiak’s scheme.
The last wide receiver to win the award was Odell Beckham Jr. — who also played for LSU — in 2014. Jefferson has a winning pedigree coming off a national championship season with the Tigers where he led the NCAA in catches (111) and contested-catch percentage (92.3). He said Beckham’s game is also a part of his, as Jefferson watched Beckham play with his older brothers at LSU.
Between Burrow and Jeudy was four running backs, which isn’t a bad bet by Zierlein — three of the past five winners were running backs.
Jefferson Snubbed on Pro Football Focus’ OROY List
This year’s rookie wide receiver class has historic expectations, setting a record with six wideouts taken in the first round and 13 overall in the first two rounds. Pro Football Focus was high on five rookie wide receivers’ chances to win Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY), but Jefferson was not one of them.
PFF ranked Jefferson the ninth-best wide receiver in the 2020 draft class.
The questions surrounding Jefferson center on his game speed and size and how he’ll handle NFL press coverage. Despite shattering expectations at the combine, it wasn’t enough to catapult him among the top-three wide receivers drafted, and instead, he fell to the Vikings.
🔥 4.43 40-yard dash
🔥 37.5" vertical
🔥 10'6" broad jump
Justin Jefferson ticked every box in Indy.pic.twitter.com/yvL3W53PFw
— PFF College (@PFF_College) March 4, 2020
Vikings Have the Most OROY Winners Since 1998
Although Rookie of the Year awards don’t promise longevity or future success, the Vikings have gotten some good returns from their rookie talent, winning three OROY awards since 1998.
Randy Moss won the award in his rookie season after being drafted No. 21 overall. He finished the season with 1,313 yards and 17 TDs.
— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) November 9, 2019
Next was running back Adrian Peterson in 2007. Peterson set several franchise records that season and also set the NFL single-game rushing record in a duel with San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
Adrian Peterson selects his "Most Memorable Game as a Vikings" – Setting the NFL Rushing record in 2007 vs SD. He had just 46 yards in the first half – 250 in the 2nd! Thanks to AP's Dad Nelson for connecting us to Adrian. @gregcoleman8 @PAOnTheMic @nacholeber @AdrianPeterson pic.twitter.com/JeEzoAaMnw
— VikeFans (@VikeFans) May 18, 2020
Percy Harvin brought the honor back to the Vikings just two years later in 2009, where he scored eight touchdowns — two of which were off kickoff returns.
Follow Trevor Squire on Twitter: @trevordsquire