Can Justin Jefferson Reach 2000 Receiving Yards This Season?
Ahead of the 2022 season, Justin Jefferson has been making a lot of lofty goals. Not only has he promised to be universally considered as the NFL’s best receiver at the end of the season, but he has a number in mind for how many receiving yards he wants to reach, and it’s a place where no receiver has gone before: 2000.
Throughout the sports world, there are many benchmarks set in place that seemed impossible until they were actually accomplished. Given my background as a track athlete, the 4-minute mile comes to mind. For the first half of the 20th century, the world deemed the feat as impossible as so many runners tried and failed. Then, on that fateful day of May 6th, 1954, Roger Bannister broke through all the barriers put in front of him, running a mile in 3:59.4. Flash forward to 2022, it’s not entirely unheard of for the top high schoolers to run a sub-4-minute mile.
Today, it seems like we are in the midst of a similar discussion. In the late 1990s-early 2000s, the idea of a player breaking 2000 receiving yards in an NFL season would have been viewed as unfathomable. Only three players in NFL history had ever put together 1750-yard seasons. Now, in the past decade, we’ve seen three players come within 150 yards of that 2000 mark. The closest is of course Calvin Johnson whose 2012 record of 1964 yards turns 10-years-old this year. The question remains, can Justin Jefferson be the Roger Bannister of the NFL and reach 2000 receiving yards?
A Look at the Numbers
Obviously, Jefferson’s quest for 2000 yards will benefit from the fact that he gets to play 17 games whereas prior to 2021, everyone else had only 16 games. With this handicap, we saw Cooper Kupp record the second-most receiving yards in a season with 1947 for the Rams last year. That said, there was still a massive drop-off from Kupp as Jefferson’s 1616 yards ranked second in the league during the 2021 season.
In order to reach 2000 yards this year, Jefferson will have to record 384 yards more than he did last year, or an extra ~22.6 yards per game. On the season, the third-year receiver will have to average 117.6 yards per game.
Over the course of 33 career games, Jefferson has had 118+ yards in 10 of them, or just under a third. However, if you look at the top 17 receiving games of his career, or just a little over half of his career, he blows the 2000-yard threshold out of the water. These games amount to 2151 yards, despite having under 90 yards in three of them. Considering these games have all been played in the Zimmer era, and O’Connell should have Jefferson targeted just as much, if not more often, it’s certainly feasible that a 2000-yard season is within reach.
The Vikings have a sneaky-difficult schedule early in the season. Four of their first five games come against teams who had above-average pass defenses in 2021, and there’s an argument that all three of the Eagles, Packers, and Saints got better against the pass this offseason. In fact, 10 of their 17 games are against teams that ranked among the top-16 in terms of passing yards allowed.
This may seem like bad news, but it’s against these top-half teams that Jefferson put together some of his best games last year. For example, he put up 169 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Packers in Week 13. He also tallied over 100 receiving yards against the Bears, Chargers, and Rams. On paper, the opponents should be tough this year, but in actuality, it may be this slate of opponents that actually pushes Justin Jefferson closer to 2000 yards.
Is This in the Vikings Best Interest?
At the end of the day, Kevin O’Connell is going to game plan in a way that gives the Vikings the best chance to win. If you look at some of the highest single season receiving yardage totals, it’s a bit of a mixed bag in terms of overall team success. Just among the top three, Calvin Johnson’s Lions went 4-12, Cooper Kupp’s Rams won the Super Bowl, and Julio Jones’ Falcons went 8-8.
Despite some mixed results throughout NFL history, I think we have a decent idea of what happens to the Vikings when Justin Jefferson gets a lot of attention in the passing game. Forget about yards for a second; let’s look at targets.
Ironically enough, Jefferson has 17 career games with 10+ targets, 10 of which came in 2021. In those games the Vikings are 10-7, a record that would have given them a playoff spot last year and should do the same in 2022. Additionally, these seven losses include the games where Greg Joseph missed the game-winning kick against the Cardinals and the Lions walk-off touchdown in Detroit.
If worst-case scenarios didn’t happen in these two games, the Vikings would be 12-5 in Jefferson’s 10+ target games; a record that should put them in contention for the NFC North this year. I think the results are clear; the Vikings are at their best when Jefferson sees the ball early and often.
So, back to the original question: can Justin Jefferson really reach 2000 receiving yards in 2022? I think that answer is unequivocally yes. The only reason I would have doubted this would be if the Vikings struggled in games where he saw a majority of the targets.
As we saw though, even with some late-game disasters that were out of Jefferson’s control, the Vikings are undoubtedly a better team in these games. Combine his talents, Kevin O’Connell’s scheme, and the Vikings general success rate when he has big receiving loads, I would bet on Jefferson becoming the NFL receiver’s version of Roger Bannister in 2022.