Jul 28, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.
During Justin Jefferson’s first two seasons, the Minnesota Vikings finished 15-18 (.454), a subpar win-loss total for a team with a reasonably talented depth chart. And while the team was mediocre on the whole, Jefferson was stellar as an individual.
Jefferson broke a mini-record, tabulating 3,016 receiving yards in his first two seasons, the most ever by a player in his first two seasons. Now, he wants the team to strive further.
On the Star Tribune‘s Daily Delivery podcastJefferson told host Michael Rand, “We need to find that extra level to really put this team in the conversation of the Super Bowl. A lot of guys are definitely counting us out and not having us in that conversation, so that should be our motivation going into next season.”
Jefferson also commended the Vikings offense last year, which he described as “third or fourth best” in the NFL. Heading into 2022, Minnesota’s offense will have a new approach, retiring the Mike Zimmer era in favor of the youth and analytics sponsored by general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell. Jefferson is already the most targeted player in NFL history via pass attempts through a player’s first two seasons. But with O’Connell in the saddle, attention to Jefferson in the Vikings offense figures only to increase,
While the Vikings were unabashedly a run-first organization under Zimmer, Minnesota didn’t run the ball as much as some fans assume. The team had an on-again-off-again relationship at times with running the football. The team ranked as followsper year, for percentage of run plays on offense:
- 2014 = 13th
- 2015 = 3rd
- 2016 = 24th
- 2017 = 5th
- 2018 = 29th
- 2019 = 4th
- 2020 = 6th
- 2021 = 15th
Under O’Connell, the Vikings are likely to embrace balance — and err on the side of passing when in doubt. One of the central mysteries of the Zimmer days was the implementation of a handsomely-paid quarterback with a head coach who didn’t want to throw the ball all over the field. It often seemed like, left up to Zimmer, the quarterback was merely a vessel to avoid turnovers, hand the ball to an RB, and take a few deep shots.
If a team pays a QB1 north of $30 million, he should be the focal point of the offense. Otherwise, sure, scrape the bottom of the barrel for quarterback salary if all that is needed is a player who limits turnovers.
Well, the Vikings welcomed back that same affluent quarterback, Kirk Cousins, this offseason, extending him by an extra season through the end of the 2023 season. Hiring O’Connell, a former coach to Cousins with the Washington Commanders, is a sure-fire signal that the Vikings plan to rely on Cousins as the team’s undisputed maestro.
Moreover, life will be easier for O’Connell, Jefferson, Cousins, and everyone else if Minnesota’s defense improves. This stat on the Vikings defense is the most scathing indictment to source Minnesota’s recent tumble into mediocrity:
Vikings Defensive Ranking,
2014-2019 = 1st
If the Vikings can whisk the defense ranking closer to the middle of the NFL or perhaps higher, embrace O’Connell’s presumptive pass-first mindest, and bow to Jefferson’s proclamation of finding an “extra level,” NFL experts may insert the team into the Super Bowl chats mentioned by Jefferson.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow, He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis, His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).