NFL

Record-breaking Justin Jefferson sets bar at huge height for incoming receiver draft class

By Sports Desk January 04, 2021

As the NFL's regular season was coming to a frantic finale in Week 17, in a virtually empty Ford Field, history was being made in a game with no playoff implications.

Despite its high-scoring nature, the shootout between the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings probably won't live long in memory of most NFL fans.

But it is likely to be a game that will forever stick in the mind of Vikings' star receiver Justin Jefferson, who put the finishing touches on one of the great rookie wideout seasons in Minnesota's 37-35 victory.

Jefferson finished the game with nine catches for 133 yards, taking his tally to 1,400 for the year, surpassing the single-season record for receiving yards by a rookie in the Super Bowl era set by Anquan Boldin (1,377) in 2003.

It was the seventh 100-yard game for Jefferson in a season where he proved he deserved to be in the conversation to be the first receiver off the board in the 2020 draft, rather than the fifth.

He was regarded as a polished route-runner coming out of college, having helped LSU to a National Championship in his final season.

Yet the manner in which his abilities in that regard have translated to the pro game surpassed all expectations.

Jefferson has made a habit of embarrassing defenders with his agility and fluidity in changing direction, while he has demonstrated tremendous concentration and body control at the catch point.

The result of that combination of traits was a rookie season that saw him lead all wide receivers in plays of 25 yards or more, finishing the year with 16.

His receiving yards per game average of 87.5 was topped by just four players, with Jefferson eighth in yards per reception. Jerry Jeudy (16.5) and Gabriel Davis (17.1) were the only rookies to finish ahead of him in that category.

Twelfth in average yards at the catch point with 11.3, where Jefferson may look to improve is in yards after the catch. His average of 4.6 yards after catch per reception was 27th among all receivers.

Jefferson will probably also have eyes on a more prolific year in 2021, having found the endzone half as many times as team-mate Adam Thielen (14 touchdowns) did in the 2020 regular season.

However, in terms of all-round production, few receivers can match up to what Jefferson produced in his maiden campaign as he set the standard for another exceptional class of receivers in the 2021 draft.

There are many who believe the 2021 class of wideouts is even better than that of 2020 and the expectations on that group are likely to be huge.

Jefferson's former LSU teammate Ja'Marr Chase opted out of the 2020 college football season but is still regarded as arguably the most complete wideout in the draft.

That status has been challenged by Alabama's Devonta Smith, now the favourite to become the first receiver since Desmond Howard in 1991 to win the prestigious Heisman Trophy after an incredible season for the Crimson Tide.

For all their exploits in college, however, Chase, Smith and others will have a huge task to come anywhere close to replicating Jefferson's rookie year. The bar has been set for the incoming influx of exciting young pass-catchers, and it has been set absurdly high.

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    The time for talking is almost done as the coronavirus-delayed 43rd Ryder Cup gets under way at Whistling Straits on Friday.

    Europe head into the much-anticipated showdown with the United States as defending champions after winning 17.5 - 10.5 at Le Golf National in 2018.

    This year's edition in Wisconsin promises to be as competitive as ever, with USA hoping their team of rookies can prevail against their more experienced European opponents.

    Here, Stats Perform picks out the best of the facts and figures ahead of the first tee off.

     

    EUROPE'S RECENT DOMINANCE

    – This year's Ryder Cup is the 43rd edition, with nearly half of those (21) having pitted Europe against USA. Due to the tournament being delayed by a year by the coronavirus pandemic, this is the first Ryder Cup to be held in an odd year since 1999.

    Europe have the upper hand with 11 victories since 1979, compared to eight for USA. There was a tie in 1989, which saw Europe regain the cup having won the previous edition two years earlier.

    Europe have won nine of the last 12 Ryder Cups, including half of the last eight played on US soil.

    – Six of the last eight Ryder Cups have seen a final score gap of at least five points. The gap was never more than three points in each of the previous eight editions (1987 to 2002).

    – This year's Ryder Cup is the first to be played in Wisconsin, making it the 19th US state to host the tournament, with only California, Massachusetts and Ohio having played host on more than one occasion.

    – Since 1979, only four of the 20 Ryder Cups have seen a team overturn a deficit going into the singles (1993, 1995, 1999 and 2012).

    – USA have won 12 of the 20 singles sessions against Europe since 1979 (60 per cent). However, since 2002, Europe have the upper hand in the Sunday format, winning it six times in nine attempts.

    Only two of the 42 Ryder Cups have ended in a tie: 1969 (16-16) and 1989 (14-14).

    WESTWOOD LEADS THE WAY FOR EXPERIENCED EUROPE

    – With a combined total of 156 matches played at the Ryder Cup, this is the most experienced European team since the 1995 edition (196 matches). Three players are making their debut for Europe: Bernd Wiesberger, Viktor Hovland and Shane Lowry, half as many as the US team (six).

    – Fifty per cent of the European team are made up of English players (six out of 12). Since the introduction of Team Europe in 1979, that ties the highest number of English players after 2016.

    – In Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm, Spain have a playing representative at the Ryder Cup for the 21st consecutive edition. In fact, other than England, they are the only nation to have had at least one player at every Ryder Cup edition since the introduction of Team Europe in 1979.

    – Rahm – world number one and Europe's most recent major winner (US Open 2021) – is playing in his second Ryder Cup. He won only one of his three matches in 2018, but that was the singles match against Tiger Woods, only the American's second ever loss in the singles format after 1997.

    Garcia is the highest points scorer in the history of the Ryder Cup (25.5 points out of a possible 41). The Spaniard is taking part in his 10th Ryder Cup – that's every edition since 1999 except 2010. It is also only the third time he has been a captain's pick after 2002 and 2018.

    – Rory McIlroy is making his sixth consecutive Ryder Cup appearance (all since 2010), the longest current run among European players. He has played every single session at the tournament since his debut in 2010.

    – Viktor Hovland is the youngest player at this year's Ryder Cup – he will be aged 24 years and six days on the opening day of the tournament. He is also the first Norwegian to play in the tournament.

    – This is Lee Westwood's 11th Ryder Cup, joining Nick Faldo as the European player with the most appearances in the biennial tournament. If he plays at least four matches, he will overtake Phil Mickelson for the most in the tournament's history. Westwood is also the oldest player at this year's tournament.

    HISTORY ON USA'S SIDE

    – USA have six Ryder Cup rookies at this year's tournament, the most since 2008. In fact, they have won both previous editions against Europe where at least 50 per cent of their team was made up of newcomers: 1979 (eight rookies) and 2008 (six rookies).

    – Eight of the 12 American players at this year's Ryder Cup are aged under 30, which is twice as many as the European team (four out of 12).

    – Collin Morikawa is the youngest US player at this year's Ryder Cup – he will be aged 24 years, seven months and 18 days on the opening day of the tournament.

    – Tony Finau's first Top 10 at a major came in the 2015 US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. He won two of his three matches in his only previous Ryder Cup appearance in 2018, setting the second-best points ratio (66.7 per cent) in the US team after Justin Thomas (80 per cent, four points out of a possible five).

    – This is Brooks Koepka's third – and consecutive – Ryder Cup appearance. He won three of his four matches the last time it was held in the United States (2016).

    – This is Jordan Spieth's fourth consecutive Ryder Cup appearance. He has collected eight points from a possible 11 in fourballs/foursomes, a 73 per cent scoring rate. Only Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have a better ratio among US players in the team format.

    – At 37, Dustin Johnson is the oldest member of this year's US Ryder Cup team. This is his fifth appearance in the showpiece event, winning only one of his previous four (2016). He is the US player with the most matches played in the history of the tournament without a single half point (W7 L9).

    – Bryson DeChambeau lost all three of his matches in his only previous Ryder Cup appearance in 2018. He was the only US player to remain scoreless alongside Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, whom he both partnered in 5 and 4 losses.

  • NFL Fantasy Picks: Herbert should electrify against Chiefs NFL Fantasy Picks: Herbert should electrify against Chiefs

    Is it Week 3 already? The advent of a 17th game means the regular season will stretch further into January, but the NFL campaign always seems to fly by at breakneck speed.

    In the world of fantasy football, plenty of managers may be seeing things spiral out of control in a hurry after an 0-2 start.

    Or maybe you're on the other end of things, with at least one win on the board and feeling satisfied that your draft-day decisions were the right ones.

    Either way, it's important to remember that fantasy is a weekly game, and success hinges on the selection calls made each weekend.

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    Quarterback: Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs

    Herbert was frustrated in Week 2 as the Chargers let opportunities go begging in their defeat to the Dallas Cowboys, with two interceptions undermining an otherwise impressive display that saw him throw for 338 yards and a touchdown.

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    Running Back: Ty'Son Williams, Baltimore Ravens @ Detroit Lions

    Despite seeing their running back depth decimated by injuries, the Ravens saw their backfield get going in a huge way in their stunning Week 2 win over the Chiefs.

    Baltimore gashed Kansas City for 251 yards on the ground at an average of 6.1 yards per carry. The complexity that quarterback Lamar Jackson's running threat brings to their rushing attack played a significant role, but the Ravens will have been extremely encouraged by Williams' performance.

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    Wide Receiver: D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers @ Houston Texans

    On the surface, there is not much intrigue in Thursday's primetime clash between the Panthers and Texans.

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    Aside from Christian McCaffrey, Moore is the top threat on the Panthers' offense. He had eight catches for 79 yards and a touchdown last week against a New Orleans Saints defense that is superior to that of the Texans, which allowed Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield to complete 90 per cent of his passes in Week 2.

    Targeted 19 times across his first two games, if Moore gets a double-digit share as he did versus New Orleans, he will be set up perfectly to deliver another productive performance.

    Tight End: T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions vs. Baltimore Ravens

    While the Lions may be in a rebuilding year, Hockenson is constructing an excellent case for him to be considered among the NFL's premier players at the tight end position.

    He has 163 yards and two touchdowns in his first two games and now gets to face a Ravens defense giving up the most fantasy points per game in the league to opposing tight ends.

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    Defense: Arizona Cardinals @ Jacksonville Jaguars

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  • Ryder Cup: Stars who could earn their stripes for the USA and Europe Ryder Cup: Stars who could earn their stripes for the USA and Europe

    After three long years, the wait for another Ryder Cup ends this week as the United States and Europe take to the fairways and greens of Whistling Straits. 

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    UNITED STATES: Super Spieth ready to show his teeth

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    Spieth has mentioned in the build-up that he loves the course set-up at Whistling Straits, which he feels provides scoring opportunities on almost every hole. 

    The 28-year-old also referenced his previous Ryder Cup success. He has collected eight points from a possible 11 in fourballs/foursomes, a 73 per cent scoring rate. Only Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have a better ratio among USA players in the team format. 

    UNITED STATES: Nice guy Finau just the man for Stricker's superstars

    American teams in the past have been accused of…well…not exactly getting along. Having the ultimate good guy in the team is sure to boost morale and Tony Finau certainly fits that mould. 

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    On his Ryder Cup debut, he was one of few bright notes for Team USA, with Finau winning two of his three matches – including a singles win over the otherwise unflappable Tommy Fleetwood, setting the second-best points ratio (66.7 per cent) in the American team after Justin Thomas (80 per cent, four points out of a possible five). 

    Moreover, at the 2015 US PGA Championship, Finau finished 10th having shot four sub-par rounds at Whistling Straits. Finau is the sort of character who can really flourish at a Ryder Cup, particularly with home support behind him. 

     

    EUROPE: Europe eye trophy Rahm raid

    Jon Rahm is the man for the big occasion. He is the only player to have secured a top-10 finish at all four majors this year, while he is also Europe's most recent victor at one of the leading events, having won the U.S. Open. 

    The world number one's Ryder Cup debut did not go entirely to plan in 2018, as he won only one of his three matches, but that triumph was in a singles match-up with Tiger Woods – only Tiger's second loss in the format. 

    Now established at the forefront of the sport, Rahm will expect to be the man to lead Europe to glory with an improved all-round showing, justifying his status as the bookmakers' favourite to be the leading points scorer at Whistling Straits. 

    EUROPE: Viktor sounds like a winner

    Belgium's Thomas Pieters was the top points scorer five years ago at Hazeltine, scoring four points but ending on the losing side. With Norway's Viktor Hovland relishing his debut on the team, could there be another surprise leader on the points board? 

    Hovland played college golf for Oklahoma State and has been a familiar figure on the PGA Tour, so playing in America is second nature. He was low amateur at the Masters and U.S. Open in 2019, won the U.S. Amateur, and has come of age since, jumping to a career-high world ranking of number 10 in August. 

    Eight top-10 finishes and just one missed cut since the turn of the year show what he brings, and that level of consistent play is bound to appeal to captain Harrington. 

    "I'd like to think I have some fans out there that maybe won't necessarily boo against us," Hovland said this week. "But if they do end up doing that, that's what they're going to do. We're still going to play golf, and if they do end up doing that, that means we're doing something good." 

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