As a Vikings fan since birth, I don’t have much to be excited about this year. Coming off of an absolute embarrassment of a loss to the Cowboys on Sunday afternoon, my morale is quite low, even for this team. Losing too many games to have any serious playoff potential and winning too many games to have any serious draft expectations, the Vikings are in that sweet spot of hopeless who cares-ism. So what is a fan to do when the present and future both look bleak? Focus on the positive! For me, that positive is LSU rookie wideout Justin Jefferson. Let’s explore!
A Little Back Story
The Minnesota Vikings selected Jefferson with one of their two first round picks in the 2020 draft. The reason they had two first rounders was the trade of superstar Stefon Diggs to the Bills earlier in the year. I liked Jefferson as a prospect but never thought he would be anything more than a solid number two WR, let alone the type of player Diggs was and currently is.
How It Started
I don’t often expect much out of a first year wide receiver, at least not one wearing the purple and gold. Jefferson’s first two games helped lull me into thinking this belief was sound. He had a combined 6 catches for 70 yards. Decidedly meh. Nothing to be ashamed of, but also nothing to get excited about. Really the encapsulation of this franchise. A perfect fit.
How It’s Going
Justin Jefferson was primarily a slot receiver with LSU. The Vikings, understandably, played him as such the first two games of the season. Then they gave him a shot on the outside. This is where Jefferson came alive. In his first 4 games at this new designation, he cracked the 100-yard receiving mark 3 times, including games of 175 and 166. It was clear the Vikings had found his new primary location.
Now, this run of success did not go unnoticed by opposing defenses. This is where Jefferson’s value goes beyond gaudy yardage totals. While he has been limited to just one other game cracking the century mark, the Vikings have been running wild over their competition with RB Dalvin Cook.
Opening Up The Run Game
Having options like Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson on the outside allowed Dalvin Cook to amass 417 yards in the following 3 games after Jefferson’s breakout 4 game stretch. Sure, he is the best running back in the game, but Jefferson’s emergence has caused teams to have to decide between being beaten by Cook on the ground or by Kirk Cousins in the air. That’s an incredibly easy choice if you ask me, but opponents not choosing Cook helped the Vikings rattle off 3 straight wins after a dismal 1-5 start.
The Future Is Less Dark
While Justin Jefferson’s ascent to stardom has not brought this Vikings team any closer to being Super Bowl contenders this year, it is something to be excited about. I know they still have Kirk, and they will never be a legitimate threat until they finally accept that he is the wrong answer to a life-long question, but it’s still something. And really, as a Vikings fan, that is all we ever have.
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