Minnesota Vikings star Justin Jefferson didn’t need long to establish himself as one of the premier wide receivers in the NFL. In Week 3 of his rookie season against the Tennessee Titans, he exploded for 175 yards and a touchdown on seven catches, and it got better from there.
The No. 22 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft finished his rookie campaign with 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns on 88 catches, breaking the record for most receiving yards by a rookie. Jefferson upped his game in 2021 with 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns on 108 catches. Two NFL seasons, two All-Pro selections and two Pro Bowl appearances.
Jefferson’s Vikings are entering a new era in 2022, and are now led by first-year general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensahm and first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell. Jefferson told CBS Sports this weekend that his new head coach has already done a solid job laying the groundwork for a successful culture, and that the players are having fun for the first time in a while.
“He’s great,” Jefferson responded when asked his thoughts on O’Connell. “Everybody in the building loves his attitude, and just him connecting with the players all around the building. Everybody seems to have fun and get the job done all at the same time. It wasn’t like that the first two years that I was there. And really just everybody connecting as a team and responding.”
O’Connell becoming a head coach is something people have been expecting for years. The former Washington quarterbacks coach was promoted by Jay Gruden to offensive coordinator back in 2019 because other teams were interested in his services, and he also received head coach consideration after Gruden’s firing before Washington eventually landed on Ron Rivera. Next, O’Connell served as Sean McVay’s offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams for two seasons. He ended his tenure in L.A. in the best way possible, with a Super Bowl ring.
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The former quarterback is vying to be the next in line of successful former Washington assistants, and while it’s just June, his new players are already impressed with the offense he’s installing. Backup quarterback Kellen Mond recently said there’s more flavor in the offense, and Jefferson said that’s a great way to describe it.
“Yeah, I mean that’s definitely the word for it,” Jefferson said. “Definitely gives us a lot more ability to get the ball to different people in different positions. But we love the offense, it seems to be working very well, us going against the defenses in seven on seven. But it’s great, we love it. Hopefully it’s the change we need.”
That change Jefferson is alluding to could lead him to become the highest-paid receiver in NFL history in the near future. The total resetting of the wide receivers market was a major headline this offseason, and led star players like Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown to leave their respective franchises for more money. It’s certainly something Jefferson has been monitoring.
“Yeah it’s definitely going up every single year,” Jefferson said with a laugh. “Seeing different guys getting these big numbers for their deals. So definitely looking at that and hopefully I can get the next big deal.”
Jefferson’s early success in the NFL isn’t lost on him, and he attributes his progress to his support system as well as to the college teammates he knew that made the jump to the league before him.
“To the coaches during my journey, my family, my brothers for really showing me the ropes, teaching me different ways to better myself on and off the field and really just doing it before me,” Jefferson said when asked about his seemingly easy transition to the pros. “Seeing them go through it, seeing them go to LSU, go into the league, it was easier for me to go through that process because they already been through it.”
With the 2022 season just around the corner, we asked Jefferson if he had any personal goals this year. His answer was simple enough.
“Become the best receiver in the league. If that’s not already the case.”
Jefferson spoke to CBS Sports at DICK’S House of Sport Minnetonka grand opening event. The 115,000-square-foot store features a rock climbing wall, a batting cage, golf simulators and a new concept hockey shop. It also has a 20,000-square-foot outdoor turf field and track that will be turned into an ice skating rink in the winter.
“Definitely had some kids running up in here with smiles on their faces, signing autographs and everything,” Jefferson said of his meet-and-greet. “Definitely a good time.”