Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson had a vendetta last year as the fifth wide receiver taken in the 2020 NFL Draft class.
He vowed to make every team that passed on him pay and did so by breaking the NFL single-season rookie receiving yards record — tallying 88 receptions for 1,400 receiving yards — that stood for 17 years.
Despite enjoying the first offseason of his career, complacency has not fallen over Jefferson. The recently turned 22-year-old receiver has put to rest any ruminations of a sophomore slump with his tenacity in team activities this spring — most notably Jefferson calling out Patrick Peterson in practice.
“I’ve been trying to apply some of the pressure to Pat Pete,” Jefferson said during OTAs. “Him being one of the top corners in the league and going up against him at practice that only makes us better as receivers. You don’t get to see a guy like Pat Pete every single game. He’s a great corner. He’s so smart. He’s so patient. Definitely trying to work some new moves on him and seeing what works and what don’t work.”
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Jefferson Draws on College Competition in the NFL
Despite shining with no offseason, in-person team activities in his rookie year, Jefferson is carrying himself through his first true offseason with a veteran demeanor and workmanlike attitude.
“(Jefferson’s) one of those guys who comes into work he’s a pro every efficient in practice just a guy who seems like he’s been in the league for 4 or five years that’s very rare you can look at a second-year player like ‘he’s been here before, ‘” Peterson said on the All Things Covered podcast. “That’s a credit to his family, the way he goes about his business and what he wants his career to be. You can tell he wants to be special and he loves coming to work every day.”
Jefferson’s rise to prominence is no coincidence for those who have watched him practice since his teen years. As a walk-on at LSU, Jefferson developed into one of the most dominant college receivers through his development in practice.
“Going against the top DBs in the country every single day at practice, you kinda get used to that feeling of being competitive and trying to do your best,” Jefferson said. “Those game days, I knew I had to be determined to go up and catch those 50-50 balls and win that one-on-one battle.”
Jefferson’s tenacity on the practice field translated to the gameday turf as he led the NCAA in catches (111) and contested-catch rate (92.3) in his senior year.
That ability to attack the ball and gain separation shined in his rookie year as Jefferson posted the highest grade against man coverage by a rookie wide receiver since 2014 and debunked the critique that he could only shine when schemed to in the slot.
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Jefferson Taking Leadership Reigns in Second Season
Peterson recognized Jefferson’s beyond-his-years demeanor in practice which has blossomed entering his second season as a pro.
“When you’re a rookie first coming in, you’re kinda shy to things you don’t really know exactly what to say — you’re just getting used to everybody,” Jefferson said. “Now, going on my second year, I just feel so comfortable with these guys… I’m just trying to take on that role and to be a leader.”
Celebrating Jefferson’s 22nd birthday at minicamps on Wednesday, the Vikings gravitated toward Jefferson as he broke the huddle down at the end of practice.
Recognizing his teammates’ work this offseason, Jefferson’s expectations of himself and his team are clear.
“(Expectations are) extremely high,” Jefferson said. “Seeing the guys on defense, how they move around, how they communicate, it’s very exciting. I know this offense has some talented guys on the squad. We’re going to bring the heat (on offense), and I know these new guys on the defense are going to bring the heat as well. We’re going to be looking really, really good this season.”