To put it lightly, Justin Jefferson balled out in his 2020 rookie campaign. His 1400 yards tied for the 99th best receiving season in NFL history and famously broke both Randy Moss’ franchise rookie receiving record for the VIkings and Anquon Boldin’s NFL rookie receiving record.
More impressively, Jefferson essentially produced all his numbers in 14 games. He did not start his first two games of the season and was targeted a total of six times in those games. He recorded 1330 yards over his final 14 games and was key to the Vikings’ resurgence in the middle of the season.
If we expand his production from those 14 games to 16, the numbers become absurd. He averaged 95 yards per game in that stretch, and if he had gotten that production in the first two games, his yardage total would have been 1520. This would have been the 42nd highest receiving total in NFL history, nestled between DeAndre Hopkins’ 2015 season (1521 yards) and Jordy Nelson’s 2014 season (1519 yards).
Some of the excitement stemming from Jefferson’s success comes from the fact that 2020 was his rookie year. Usually this is a year for players to figure out how to play in the league and find their roles. It isn’t supposed to be a year where they come in and immediately perform like one of the best players at their positions. Jefferson did just that, though, and it has some fans projecting an even bigger role and more absurd statistics in 2021.
I’m here to say that Vikings fans should not want this.
The Vikings’ Arsenal of Weapons
I know, this is probably a debby-downer of an article. It’s fun to think about Jefferson dominating the league in purple and gold for years to come. However, the Vikings are a team with a plethora of luxuries on the offensive side of the ball. Between continued production from Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook, and the hopeful progression of Irv Smith and Tyler Conklin, Kirk Cousins will have plenty of places to put the ball this upcoming season.
If Justin Jefferson gets an even larger role, it almost assuredly means that Adam Thielen will be flushed out of the offense. We saw this happen in stretches at the end of the season, and Minnesota was not successful in these games. The Vikings are a run-first team as well. When Dalvin Cook was at his best, Minnesota was winning games. This is the strategy that needs to continue into 2021, especially if the defense were to remain mediocre. Trying to become a high-flying, pass-first offense puts a lot more pressure on a defense that struggled in 2020.
We know when Calvin Johnson was putting up his record-setting season of 1964 yards in 2012, the Lions stunk. Detroit went 4-12 and finished last in the NFC North. But hey, Megatron was fun to watch at least, right? This got me thinking, how many of these top receiving seasons ended with similarly disappointing team results?
Well, it turns out that it’s kind of shocking how bad teams can end up.
Let’s take a deeper look at the top-20 receiving seasons. This goes all the way from Johnson’s 2012 season to Michael Irvin’s 1995 season where he recorded 1603 yards for the Cowboys. To start, six of the team’s didn’t make the playoffs. It makes sense. When teams are behind, there are more passes, and defenses lax. It can cause inflated numbers. As fun as Jefferson was last season, do Vikings fans really want to watch a repeat of 2020?
Now, of the 14 remaining teams that did make the playoffs, 11 were eliminated before the conference championship. The only three that made it that far were Charley Hennigan’s 1961 Houston Oilers, Jimmy Smith’s 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars, and Michael Irvin’s 1995 Cowboys. The Jags lost in the conference championship, but the Oilers won the NFL championship (no Super Bowl back in those days) and the Cowboys won the Super Bowl.
Still, there are not a ton of examples of team success while having a historically great receiving season. Irvin’s season ranks 20th, Smith’s ranks 16th, and Hennigan’s season ranks 6th. The total playoff record of these 14 teams? 6-12: not exactly anything to be excited about.
There are a couple really ugly losses in here as well. Just a few include the 0-41 loss by the 2002 Indianapolis Colts to the New York Jets, and the 37-58 loss suffered by the Detroit Lions at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995.
My question to all Vikings fans to close this article is this: would you rather have great team success or historically great Justin Jefferson success? It may come down to one or the other. Even if the Vikings make the playoffs, the odds of them making it far enough to please a starving fan base are very low.
Like I said earlier, stretching Jefferson’s 2020 numbers out through 16 games would make it the 42nd-highest receiving season ever. An extra 100 yards puts him into the top-20, and amongst the group I just talked about. Enjoy Justin Jefferson and what he is because he’s an amazing player, but the Vikings should use their strength in numbers to find team success in 2021.