For 2021 Vikings, Justin Jefferson Deemed an Irreplaceable Asset

May 26, 2021; Eagan, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) runs after the catch in drills at OTA at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

One of the primary beefs in early June about the 2021 Minnesota Vikings is depth.

The franchise isn’t necessarily “top-heavy,” but concerns linger about the prospect of playing an extended period of games without a Danielle Hunter, Kirk Cousins, or Eric Kendricks. Peek at the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA — another top-heavy group dominating 2021 headlines. LeBron James and Anthony Davis’ team fell to the upstart Phoenix Suns mainly because James and Davis were hampered in the First Round of the Playoffs. The Vikings aren’t that egregiously loaded at the top of the roster, but there are parallels.

CBS Sports outlined 32 players that cannot be replaced should injuries occur — one per team. Per Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports, it’s Justin Jefferson for the Vikings. After Jefferson for pass-catchers, it would be an Adam Thielen, Irv Smith Jr., Chad Beebe, and Bisi Johnson sandwich. For Benjamin, that inspires limits degrees of fear:

This one’s tough, because as much as RBs are replaceable, Dalvin Cook basically makes Mike Zimmer’s preferred offense. New left tackle Christian Darrisaw is almost equally as important, unless Minnesota is prepared for another bout of Kirk Cousins mishaps. And Danielle Hunter is still underrated at pass rusher. But man, if Jefferson’s play-making pop is gone, the Vikings would be left with Adam Thielen and not much else in a passing league.

And this is the bittersweet aspect of a rookie executing a brilliant season — now the expectation for Jefferson is through the roof. Jefferson is held accountable to a new standard, one loftier than a CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy — two wide receivers from the same draft class. Jefferson set an NFL rookie record for receiving yards with 1,400, so a figure south of that [by too much] would be classified as a regression.

While the Vikings enterprise would lack production and pizazz in the face of a Jefferson injury, Minnesota’s quarterback, Kirk Cousins, would not fold. Several occasions during his tenure with Washington Football Team were beset with ho-hum pass-catching corps. To be clear, Cousins was not deficient in receiving weapons — although such was the case at running back — but Washington often played a hodgepodge of questionable pass catchers. For example, in 2017, Cousins distributed the ball with efficacy. Five different players finished that season with 500+ receiving yards: Jamison Crowder, Vernon Davis, Ryan Grant, Chris Thompson, and Josh Doctson. And Cousins motored to 4,093 passing yards in his final campaign with Washington.

Indeed, a Jefferson absence would generate eye rolls, but Minnesota’s offense would not promptly die. Dalvin Cook is paid handsomely to anchor the offense — Dalvin Cook is given the ball frequently to anchor the offense. It’s the way this Vikings regime prefers it. A Jefferson-less Vikings — while substantially less exciting — would showcase a heap of Cook, Thielen, Smith Jr., and Tyler Conklin. The season would not “be over” without Jefferson. Super Bowl aspirations would dip but not the entire potential to win games.

So goes it for other franchises with Top 10 wide receivers. Ponder a Davante Adams-less Green Bay Packers or DeAndre Hopkins-less Arizona Cardinals. Minnesota is not alone with “fear” of losing a top playmaker.

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