After a record-breaking first two seasons, Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson kicked off the 2022 season with his best game yet.
Jefferson was the catalyst to Minnesota’s 23-7 win over Green Bay with a career-high 184 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Sometimes, the NFL schedule just nails it, and in Week 2, Jefferson will share the spotlight with the only other player who broke 150 receiving yards in Week 1.
Eagles wideout A.J. Brown tied his career high with 155 yards against Detroit in his team debut. Following the NFL odds, the Eagles are a slight 1.5-point home favorite in this matchup, but Jefferson could be in a position to do what Cooper Kupp did for the Rams last year, if not exceed it.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Monday, September 19, 2022 – 08:30 PM EDT at Lincoln Financial Field
No matter what Jefferson does this season, he is already in the record books for his first two seasons. When Jefferson had 1,400 receiving yards as a rookie in 2020, he was only the second rookie in NFL history to do that.
The first was Bill Groman (1,473 yards), who did it in the inaugural year of the pass-happy AFL for the Houston Oilers. Jefferson was the first to do it in the NFL and in the Super Bowl era.
Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase joined him last year with 1,455 yards, but anyone counting on their rookie wide receiver to do what these two have done the last two years is being too hopeful.
Jefferson’s 3,016 receiving yards are the most ever in a player’s first two seasons, clearing some very impressive names.
Most receiving yards in first two seasons in NFL history:
- Justin Jefferson: 3,016 yards
- Odell Beckham Jr.: 2,755 yards
- Randy Moss: 2,726 yards
- Bill Groman: 2,648 yards
- Jerry Rice: 2,497 yards
Randy Moss probably thought his franchise records were safe, but Jefferson has been a yardage machine.
Moss is still the standard for touchdown catches as a young receiver, but Jefferson increased his scores from seven to 10 last year and is off to a good start with a pair on Sunday.
Chasing Cooper Kupp and the Triple Crown
Already we have mentioned Ja’Marr Chase, Cooper Kupp, and A.J. Brown, so Jefferson is not without talented peers. Last year, Kupp may have had the best wide receiver season ever with his consistent dominance helping the Rams win a Super Bowl and himself the Super Bowl MVP award.
Kupp won the receiving Triple Crown, leading the league in catches (145), yards (1,947), and touchdowns (16). For this effort, Kupp won the Offensive Player of the Year award and even received an NFL MVP vote, the first for a wide receiver since Randy Moss in 1998.
A big part of Kupp’s success was the Rams’ willingness to move him to the slot and play him in tight formations, even lining him up in the backfield at times. The traditional role of a No. 1 wide receiver was to line up outside the numbers and run vertical routes against the defense’s best cornerback.
But with the way football has evolved to feature more short passes and different formations, the slot receivers have been thriving over the middle of the field as they take on outmatched safeties and linebackers.
Moving a talented receiver into the slot can give him a lot of matchup advantages and produce more effective and efficient offense. Jefferson is actually a great example of this based on data from Football Outsiders’ 2021 study of wide receiver targets when lined up in the slot/tight vs. lined up out wide:
- On 81 targets in slot/tight formations, Jefferson had a league-high 46.1% DVOA, which is an efficiency metric.
- On 89 targets out wide, Jefferson had minus-9.0% DVOA, which ranked in the bottom 30 at his position.
- This means Jefferson’s DVOA shot up 55 percentage points when he moved to the slot, easily the biggest increase for any starting wide receiver in 2021.
- Despite this huge difference in efficiency based on where Jefferson lined up, the Vikings used him at his less efficient alignment (wide) for 52.4% of his targets.
- In Los Angeles, Kupp had 156 of his 179 targets (87.2%) come from the slot/tight formations, maximizing his efficiency (32.8% DVOA in the slot, 9.0% DVOA out wide).
To Jefferson’s delight, the Vikings hired Kupp’s offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell as their new head coach this season.
On Sunday, Jefferson’s 184 yards were a career high. While the Packers blew a coverage that led to no defender being within 10 yards of Jefferson on his 64-yard grab, the new scheme had an instant impact on Jefferson’s career day in Week 1 according to ESPN:
- Jefferson took 41 snaps out wide, 12 in the slot, two in the backfield, and one as a tight end.
- Jefferson had 91 yards from the slot and 93 yards out wide, making him the second player in the last seven seasons to have at least 90 yards from both alignments in the same game.
If O’Connell keeps this up, Jefferson could complete the 2,000-yard receiving season that Kupp nearly achieved last year.
Extra Motivation vs. Eagles?
The juicy subplot to Monday night in Philadelphia is that it will be Jefferson’s first game in the NFL against the Eagles. In the 2020 draft, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman infamously selected wide receiver Jalen Reagor with the 21st pick in the first round.
Jefferson went with the next pick, 22nd overall to Minnesota. Jefferson has since had this prolific career while Reagor never broke 60 yards in any of his 28 games with the Eagles. He left Philadelphia with 695 yards and three touchdowns.
The crazy part is Reagor is now Jefferson’s teammate after the Eagles traded him to Minnesota at the end of August for a 2023 seventh-round pick and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2024.
Reagor had one punt return for 7 yards against Green Bay on Sunday, logging zero offensive snaps.
See What You Are Missing Out On
There could be some major “see what you’re missing out on” vibes from Jefferson to the Eagles in this one. Philadelphia is going to be content with having Brown now after a trade with Tennessee, but that 2020 draft is always going to be brought up as the one where the Eagles came away with Jalen Reagor after passing on a history-making receiver.
Maybe even the first receiver to have a 2,000-yard season now that we are in the 17-game era and coaches are slowly understanding how to maximize what has become such a premium position.
Monday Night Prediction for Jefferson
Including the playoffs, Kupp caught a touchdown in 15 out of 21 games last season. In the way that he felt inevitable to produce each week, Jefferson could be the same way this year, if not better in O’Connell’s scheme.
With the added motivation of showing up the Eagles for the draft snub, I love Jefferson for your NFL picks to find the end zone, hit his over in yards, and to lead all receivers in yards for the game in your favorite top-rated sportsbooks.
NFL Pick: Justin Jefferson Anytime Touchdown Scorer (-140) at Bovada
NFL Pick: Justin Jefferson Most Receiving Yards in Game (-175) at Bovada
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.