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.

Related items

  • Russell Wilson return to 'special' Seattle 'has got to be non-emotional' Russell Wilson return to 'special' Seattle 'has got to be non-emotional'

    Russell Wilson is determined not to be caught up in the emotion of his Week 1 return to Seattle after leaving the Seahawks for the Denver Broncos.

    Wilson's 10-season career on the Seahawks, which included their Super Bowl XLVIII success, ended this offseason with his trade to the Broncos.

    The 2022 NFL schedule release then threw up an early treat, with the Broncos visiting Lumen Field on September 12, in Wilson's first regular season game for the team.

    But for all the fond memories the nine-time Pro Bowler has of his team as a Seahawk, his focus will be on a first win in Broncos colours.

    "I think it's going to be an exciting time," Wilson told reporters. "Obviously, Seattle's meant the world to me over the past 10 years.

    "It's a special place, special place to play, Lumen Field. I have a high regard for all those guys over there and what they do.

    "I think, for me, it's non-emotional, though – it has got to be non-emotional.

    "You've got to be able to go into it with an understanding that it's just ball – and also understand that there's been amazing times. There's been a lot of touchdowns there, won a lot of games there, so I had a great experience.

    "It'll always be a special place in my heart forever. So, for me, it's about going up there and trying to play the best football for our football team here and try to go win."

    Crucially, Wilson is set to get in Denver what he was denied in Seattle, an offense shaped entirely around his ability at QB.

    New Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett said: "We want to build this thing completely around him and make sure that he's comfortable and watch him come alive."

  • Mac Jones 'cleaned up diet', looks 'more in shape than ever' Mac Jones 'cleaned up diet', looks 'more in shape than ever'

    The New England Patriots are expecting a big second season from quarterback Mac Jones after he returned to the team "in the best shape of his life".

    In his rookie 2021 season, former Alabama QB Jones led the Patriots back to the playoffs with a 10-7 record.

    Starting all 17 regular season games, he threw for 3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

    Selected 15th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, Jones was the standout performer among the rookie QBs, although his season ended in a blowout 47-17 defeat to NFC East rivals the Buffalo Bills in the postseason.

    The Patriots head into 2022 without long-time offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who has been named head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, but Jones appears set for another big year.

    "He's in the best shape of his life," receiver Kendrick Bourne said of Jones. "He looks really good. His stomach is gone.

    "When you're a rookie, you just don't know it until you go through it for a year. So, he's definitely a lot more in shape than he ever was, just dominating in conditioning. It's dope to see."

    Jones explained: "I just cleaned up my diet. I've learned more this offseason than I probably ever have about nutrition, sleep, wellness, all that stuff.

    "At the same time, I need to be able to maintain my weight and be able to take hits. There's a fine balance for every player.

    "I've definitely trimmed down on the body fat, and I'll get a chance to bulk up before the season starts and be able to absorb hits."

  • Browns bringing back Clowney on another one-year deal Browns bringing back Clowney on another one-year deal

    Jadeveon Clowney is heading back to the Cleveland Browns after being rewarded for a healthy 2021 season.

    A three-time Pro Bowl defensive end, Clowney's ability has rarely been in question, but he had been limited to just eight games for the Tennessee Titans ahead of joining the Browns last year.

    The Browns gave their new signing a one-year year last April worth up to $10million and were duly rewarded with one of the best seasons of his career.

    Playing opposite Myles Garrett, Clowney finished with nine sacks and two forced fumbles in 14 starts – each the second-best returns of his career.

    Only Garrett (16) had more sacks for the Browns, and Clowney has done enough to convince the team to invest again for 2022.

    According to ESPN, the player is returning on another 12-month deal, this time with a value up to $11m.

    The Browns finished a disappointing third in the AFC North at 8-9 in 2021 but will hope to be contenders after trading for quarterback Deshaun Watson.

    Watson played on the same Houston Texans team as Clowney between 2017 and 2018.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.