Minnesota Vikings star wide receiver Justin Jefferson entered Sunday’s season finale in reach of becoming the league’s all-time rookie leader in receiving yards during the Super Bowl era (since 1966).
He dressed for the job, sporting custom cleats with Vikings Hall of Famer Randy Moss’ rookie records on one shoe and his own stats entering the final game of his rookie year on the other.
Jefferson surpassed Moss’ franchise record for receiving yards (1,313) early in the second half of the Vikings’ 37-35 win over the Detroit Lions and later broke Anquan Boldin’s league record (1,377), finishing the season with 1,400 receiving yards and seven touchdowns after catching a team-high nine receptions for 133 yards against the Lions.
Jefferson ranks second all-time behind Bill Groman, who racked up 1,473 rookie receiving yards in 1960.
In his postgame press conference, Jefferson shouted out Moss and made a special request to his predecessor in purple and gold.
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Jefferson: ‘The Cleats, I had to Honor Him… I Gotta Get Him to Sign Them’
While there were few consolations to gather from Minnesota’s win on Sunday after the Vikings miss the playoffs for the third time in six years, Jefferson’s record was one element to the game that garnered nationwide attention.
“It’s an honor to break Randy Moss’ record,” Jefferson said. “Him being a Hall of Famer and him just being so dominant in this league, so to break his record is truly a blessing,” Jefferson said. It’s truly crazy to be in this position. The cleats, I had to honor him. I had a good chance to break the record today, so I had to put him on the cleats. I gotta get him to sign them so I can put them in my trophy case.”
Jefferson, who now officially owns the Vikings’ rookie record for receptions (88) and league record receiving yards (1,400) will likely add Sunday’s game ball to the trophy case as a memento of a landmark year for the 21-year-old.
“I haven’t talked to him about records and things like that,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “I don’t know if he really worries too much about those things. He just likes to play football. The thing, like he made one catch on the sideline today reaching way out to get it, those kind of plays are the impressive ones to me. There’s been several throughout the course of the year where guys are draped all over him and he comes down with the ball because he’s got such good catch radius. He’s a big kid, runs fast and I think he’ll continue to get better and better. And people are really cheating coverages to him quite a bit now the last few weeks.”
No Ceilings for Jefferson Next Season
Jefferson speculated on what this season would have looked like had he been named a starter to begin the season. The 2020 first-rounder didn’t start until Week 3 as Minnesota took its time introducing him to the offense.
He made his presence felt from the onset, securing seven passes for 175 yards and a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans in his first start. Jefferson finished the season commanding a 32.8% share of the Vikings’ receiving yards this season, which ranks fourth in the league, per ESPN’s Courtney Cronin. While the offense attempted the fifth-fewest pass attempts in the league, Jefferson made the most of his opportunities, finishing fourth among all receivers in yards while seeing the 17th most targets.
The rookie’s 14-game resume as a starter has left the wonderment of what could have been had he been a Day 1 starter.
“Exactly,” Jefferson said. “What if I would’ve had those two games starting? And having the same targets I had this year. Who knows what I would’ve did with that? I guess I’ll just wait until next year to start out from Week 1 and hopefully I get more yards than I did this year.”
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Trevor Squire is a Heavy contributor covering the Minnesota Vikings and journalism graduate from the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities. Connect with him on Twitter @trevordsquire and join our Vikings community at Heavy on Vikings on Facebook.