Vikings rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson has continued to make a compelling case for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Dominated by quarterbacks and running backs, the award has seen only three wide receivers earn Offensive Rookie of the Year recognition since 2000, but New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas has “seen enough.”
Thomas tagged Jefferson’s Twitter account and issued his say for Offensive Rookie of the Year goes to the Vikings rookie after Jefferson caught nine passes for 121 yards and a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars, becoming the fifth rookie wide receiver since 1970 to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in their first 12 career games.
Thomas, who posted an NFL record 149 catches for 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019 to win Offensive Player of the Year, knows what it takes to stand out at the position as the first wideout to win the award since Jerry Rice in 1993.
The Saints veteran wide receiver’s vote is the latest praise by NFL figures like DK Metcalf, Richard Sherman and Cris Carter. Even Michael Jordan has taken a liking to Jefferson’s play as he continues to build his Offensive Rookie of the Year resume.
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Pro Football Focus Reverses Its Opinion on Jefferson, Saying Rookie of the Year Race ‘Shouldn’t Even be Close’
Eight months ago in the preseason, Pro Football Focus (PFF) snubbed Jefferson on its 10 Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates list as the football analytics giant ranked Jefferson the ninth-best wide receiver in the 2020 draft class.
“We here at PFF aren’t nearly as high on Justin Jefferson as other scouts and media outlets for three primary reasons: (1) most of his production was schemed through underneath routes or from finding a hole in the zone (815 such yards led the FBS by nearly 100), (2) he faced press coverage on just 17% of his routes in 2019 and (3) when he did go up against defensive backs in single coverage, he performed poorly, producing just the 60th best receiving grade in 2018 and failing to crack the top 100 on such plays in 2019,” PFF wrote.
Since Jefferson earned his first start in Week 3, the rookie has been on a tear and has proved to be more than just a slot receiver an offense would have to scheme to. Jefferson has shown the ability to beat press coverage and win contested catches on deep routes, boasting the most 15+ yard catches and yards after the catch among rookies this season.
After Los Angeles Chargers quarterback was shutout against the New England Patriots hours after Jefferson’s performance against the Jaguars, PFF reversed its opinion on Jefferson, saying that based on performance at their respective positions, Jefferson is the frontrunner for Offensive Rookie of the Year and “it shouldn’t even be close.”
Jefferson Having the Best Rookie Wide Reciever Season Since 1985?
Football Outsider’s Aaron Schatz broke down Jefferson’s rookie campaign this season with a telling metric for assessing a player’s success compared to opportunities.
Defense-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) is a metric that “looks at success on every play based on situation and opponent then compares it to the level of an average NFL backup,” Schatz wrote. Think of DYAR as a metric like yards after the catch where a player is assessed on what they can create above how an average replacement, but applied to the entirety of a wide receiver’s skill set.
Jefferson currently has 316 DYAR through 11 starts this season and is on pace for 459 DYAR this season. Prorated to a full 16-game season would result in 76 catches, 1,335 yards and 9 touchdowns as the best rookie wide receiver performance since 1985. Thomas ranked second with his 431 DYAR in 2016, while Randy Moss had 430 DYAR in 1998.
Here’s what Schatz wrote on Jefferson before last Sunday’s game against the Jaguars:
Jefferson has 316 DYAR so far, so if the season ended today, he would still end up in the all-time rookie wide receiver top 10. No rookie has ever led the league in receiving DYAR, but Jefferson was on top for much of the season. He was narrowly passed in Week 12 by the now-suspended Will Fuller V as well as by Tyreek Hill.
Jefferson is impressive for having such a high catch rate while also running deeper routes, more similar to Moss than to Thomas. In fact, Jefferson leads the league with 19 catches on passes of 16 or more yards through the air. Jefferson also has moved the sticks on half of his targets on third and fourth down, not including a couple of DPI flags on third-down passes to the end zone that also gained a new set of downs for the Vikings.
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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.