Justin Jefferson is receiving a tsunami of recognition and praise but the 23-year-old wide receiver has his ego in check, according to Vikings teammates.
The third-year LSU alum is a game changer, and although no NFL wide receiver has ever been named league MVP, Jefferson’s resume is deserving of consideration. This week he was recognized as the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for November. And just days ago his name led all NFL players in fan voting for the 2023 Pro Bowl.
In November Jefferson’s 480 receiving yards led the NFC and he had the second-most receptions in the conference with 29. With the Vikings going 3-1 during the month, Jefferson’s 480 receiving yards was second in the NFL only to the 487 of the Raiders’ Davante Adams.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Jefferson had eight receptions of at least 20 yards during the month, the second-most in the NFL behind Adams. He led the NFC in yards from scrimmage with 490, over 100 more than Lion Amon-Ra St. Brown’s 385, who ranked second. This is the second time Jefferson has been named NFC Offensive Player of the Month.
Jefferson was also named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Bills November 10. In a Minnesota overtime win for the ages, he had 10 receptions for a career-high 193 receiving yards. That total is the most in an NFL game this season.
“He’s always played at a really crazy high level,” Harrison Smith told Sports Headliners. The Viking veteran safety is in his 11th NFL season and appreciates not only Jefferson’s talents but his character, too.
“…He’s such a big superstar (but) he doesn’t have like a standoffish personality. He likes to just be one of the guys.”
When tight end T.J. Hockenson joined the Vikings in early November after a trade with the Lions, Jefferson welcomed him. “He gets to know everybody. He builds a relationship with everybody,” Hockenson said. “It’s cool to be on the same team as him and be in the same locker room.”
Teammates describe Jefferson as a friendly, smiling, talkative and energetic person who is having so much fun with the game he loves. “He is one of the best people I’ve been around,” Hockenson said. “Just very fun-loving guy. Loves the game. It’s like he gets to go out at recess every day when we step onto the field. …”
Amen to that says running back Alexander Mattison. “Just a kid having fun, playing the game. And he hasn’t changed his ways since he came in (the NFL). Just that kid in love with the game and it’s rubbed off on us.
“I think he keeps some of the older guys…everyone around him, keeps everyone young. So yeah, his energy is always having fun, laughing, and enjoying the game, enjoying the life we live.”
Fans, not just in Minnesota, but across the country are on board with Jefferson. The NFL announced on Monday that his 90,313 votes leads all players in balloting for the 2023 Pro Bowl Game. He is in prestigious company with other top vote getters like Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce, followed by RB Saquon Barkley of the Giants and WR Tyreek Hill from the Dolphins.
Some may consider Hill the NFL’s top wide receiver but there are plenty of observers who think Jefferson deserves that spot. The Jefferson hysteria, that includes raves over his ability to make the most difficult of catches, has led to speculation he will one day rank with the greatest ever to play at his position.
Mattison was told Jefferson is having his name mentioned in the same breath with legendary receiver Jerry Rice, considered by many the best ever WR. “It’s crazy to think about, just within three years to be having these conversations. But you just kind of take a step back and look at the facts,” Mattison said. “And they’re realistic conversations to have which is crazy to actually think about. …”
Hockenson knows how revered Jefferson is already. “I think he’s one of a kind. He’s a special player. He’s one of the best to do it in this league. I am sure at the end of this (his career) he’ll be one of the best to do it ever.”
Hill is the NFL’s highest paid receiver, reportedly with a four-deal of $120 million. Jefferson is a lock to receive a new contract from the Vikings in 2023 paying him much more, perhaps over $150 million for five years.
Mattison doesn’t expect the payoff to change his friend. “Somebody like him he’s not going to have that conversation with you (about money)…as humble as he is, but he definitely is well deserving of that.”
Offensive right tackle Christian Darrisaw (concussion) and tight end Ben Ellefson (groin) have been ruled out for Sunday’s Vikings and Jets game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Smith (ankle) indicated Thursday it’s likely he will play. “It sure seems like it. I don’t know, though. We’re not there yet.”
Fourth-year Vikings center Garrett Bradbury has often been maligned in the past but Pro Football Focus notes the former No. 1 draft choice has given up just two sacks and is responsible for only four penalties in 741 snaps. PFF gives him a respectable grade of 71.
“…With the relationship with Kirk (Cousins), their communication throughout games and in-game has been huge for us,” said head coach Kevin O’Connell. “And I think physically he’s done a lot of good things in the run and pass game, kind of fitting with what we want to do. So, I’m really happy with the type of season Garrett’s had so far, and I’m hoping to continue to just get that consistent play out of him.”
Since Kene Nwangwu’s rookie season of 2021, he leads the league in kickoff return touchdowns with three including Thanksgiving night when he scored on a 97-yard return against the Patriots. The Vikings’ specialist has the third most kickoff return touchdowns in team history behind Cordarrelle Patterson and Percy Harvin, who both had five. Nwangwu is averaging a touchdown every 13.7 return (41 career kick returns).
Disappointing news for Gophers’ fans that record setting senior Mo Ibrahim wasn’t among the three finalists announced this week for the Doak Walker Award recognizing the nation’s best running back. Juniors Chase Brown, Illinois; Blake Corum, Michigan; and Bijan Robinson, Texas; are the finalists.
Many friends and admirers attended the wake in St. Paul this week for legendary former University of St. Thomas and Cretin Derham-Hall baseball coach Dennis Denning, 76, who recently passed away. “The line was out the door to get inside, and I got to the funeral home when it started at 4 p.m. An amazing tribute to coach Denning,” per an email from former Cretin baseball player Bill Robertson.
The Wild gets a stamina challenge this weekend playing Saturday afternoon at home against the Ducks and then facing the Stars in Dallas starting at 2 p.m. Sunday. Former teammate Ryan Suter, 37, has no goals and four points for the Stars who haven’t played a game since Thursday night. The Wild is 8-7-2 in its last 17 games in Dallas.
The Golden Gophers men’s hockey team has outstanding speed on the roster and has scored five or more goals in four of their last five games including 5-0 over the Spartans last night in East Lansing.
Canterbury Park will likely have a later start to the season in 2023 than normal because of redevelopment and improvements in the stable area. The Shakopee racetrack’s expected schedule will be from May 27-September 16, as proposed to the Minnesota Racing Commission.