If Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson has 89 catches for 1,401 yards in 2021, that would be just fine with him. He just wants to be better next season than he was as a rookie in 2020.
“As long as I have better numbers this year than last year, then I’ll feel like I did a good enough job,’’ Jefferson said this week during organized team activities at the Vikings’ headquarters in Eagan.
Last season, Jefferson broke Randy Moss’ 1998 team rookie record of 69 catches with 88 and his record of 1,313 receiving yards with 1,400. The yardage figure ranked second in league history for a rookie behind Bill Groman’s 1,473 for the 1960 Houston Oilers.
The 22nd player picked in the 2020 NFL Draft, Jefferson was named second-team All-Pro, made the Pro Bowl and was second in voting for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He didn’t come close to Moss’ Vikings rookie record of 17 touchdown receptions, getting seven, but one presumes that, considering his stated goal, he would happy with eight this fall.
Jefferson, though, knows it won’t be easy to improve on last season. Defensive backs figure to pay a lot more attention to him.
“That’s the hard part about the league and doing great things in the league,” Jefferson said. “There’s always someone watching your tape and studying your games, so definitely during this offseason I had to learn some new moves and put some new moves into my inventory.”
Last month, Jefferson talked about about “stealing some moves” from Davante Adams of Green Bay, Odell Beckham Jr. of Cleveland and Keenan Allen of the Los Angeles Chargers. Any moves he might have pilfered have been tested during the first three weeks of OTAs against eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, signed by the Vikings in March as a free agent.
“He’s a great corner and is so smart, he’s so patient,” Jefferson said. “So, I’m definitely trying to work some new moves on him and see what works and what doesn’t. … It’s pretty fun, actually, going up against a guy like Pat Pete. … Going against him in practice, that only makes us better as receivers.”
In addition to having new moves, Jefferson believes something else could help him be even better in 2021: He is getting more comfortable each day with quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Vikings had no on-field spring drills last year, so the first time the two got together was during training camp. Jefferson didn’t start the first two games and really emerged in Week 3. Now, not only did Jefferson have last season with Cousins, they’re continuing to make strides during OTAs.
“It’s good to be around your quarterback, just building that connection, but Kirk has been doing a fantastic job,” Jefferson said. “He’s been throwing some great, great balls. … Our locker is right next to each other, so we’re definitely building a stronger connection than last year. It’s just exciting to see.”
Cousins doesn’t disagree. “Now, it’s just about (Jefferson) building on (last season) and now being able to be consistent year in and year out moving forward,” he said.
Jefferson expects that will be the case. He said as a rookie his “dream is to be a hall of famer.” And now he says he’s even more confident.
“It’s my second year, going on my second year, and I just feel so comfortable with these guys,” Jefferson said. “They’re very easy to talk to, very easy to be around, so now I feel just way more comfortable with this team and just trying to take on that role to a leader.”