After only nine weeks, the Minnesota Vikings finally fed Justin Jefferson all day against the Los Angeles Chargers and Green Bay Packers and they won. Shocker! This should set the precedent moving forward. Not only does this week’s contest against the Detroit Lions depend on it, but potentially the future of the franchise. The Vikings have already had one superstar receiver leave due to frustration with his lack of involvement. Wasting Justin Jefferson and his immense talent is an unfortunate path to a similar fate.
Are the Minnesota Vikings Wasting Justin Jefferson?
Stefon Diggs Trade Opened the Door
Throughout his career, Justin Jefferson has always been compared to Stefon Diggs. Fair or not, it’s in our nature to want to link the duo. Diggs left the Minnesota Vikings on poor terms, upset with his role on a run-first team, which led to the trade for the draft pick that ultimately was used on Jefferson. The former LSU star is a separate player, with different goals and aspirations. It’s in the Vikings’ best interest to maximize Jefferson’s talents and not make the same mistake they did with Diggs.
When Diggs demanded a trade, the Vikings were caught in a tough position. Behind the scenes, there were most likely several issues brewing that led up to his unhappiness. But a lot of it ultimately boiled down to his involvement in the offense, or lack thereof. He wanted the ball. In his five seasons in Minnesota, Diggs saw an average of 106 targets per year. Last year in Buffalo, he got 166. Wish granted.
For the Vikings, it came down to changing an entire offensive philosophy or trading a disgruntled player. I’m sure they didn’t have to think long. If a fresh $84 million, fully guaranteed contract to their new quarterback wouldn’t move the needle away from a run-first offense, Diggs and a few tweets certainly would not.
Justin Jefferson’s Viking Future
This brings us to an interesting question. Who is to say the Vikings won’t suffer a similar fate with Jefferson? He certainly deserves the ball in his hands more. There were 17 receivers who saw more targets than Jefferson in 2020 and he’s over 25 targets behind the leaders in 2021. He finished last year with 88 catches on 125 targets for 1,400 yards, breaking the rookie record for receiving yards. He also led the league in big plays of over 20 yards. Of course, we recall his infamous hot mic clip, using colorful language, begging for Kirk Cousins to throw him the ball. Get this man the ball, Kirk!
So the Vikings are almost surely planning new ways to get Jefferson involved and unleash his full potential the rest of the season, right? Maybe not. They have an identity, and it definitely does not involve (voluntarily) throwing the ball 40 times a game. In fact, if given the choice, Zimmer would probably vote to abolish the forward pass. And offense as a whole, really. How his role in the offense unfolds the last few games will give us a good understanding of their plans for his future. A dominating true No. 1 receiver would open up the run game even more. This doesn’t need to be a complete philosophy shift, just a pivot. Cue Ross Geller.
Might Minnesota Waste Justin Jefferson?
Not to say Jefferson will definitely demand a trade at some point or refuse to re-sign with the Vikings. But if he thinks they are limiting his potential, who would blame him? Randy Moss and Cris Carter each averaged over 140 targets per season over the course of their time in Minnesota. Other top receivers in the game like DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones, when healthy, averaged over 150 targets per season. Receivers of this talent level need the ball, and it’s been a long time since the Vikings have had a receiver get that number of targets every year. It’s time again.
The Vikings have an incredible opportunity to showcase one of the league’s budding superstars and there is a big part of the fanbase that wonders if they will take that step. Continue to give Dalvin Cook his touches, but make a concerted effort to involve Jefferson as much as possible. What’s the downside? His hands get sore from catching too many touchdowns? His legs getting worn down from too much Griddy dancing?
Diggs gave us a taste of what having a superstar receiver again could feel like, but it was gone as soon as it came when the Vikings refused to change their scheme for him. Jefferson provides new hope. But one that comes with a lot of the same questions that we’ve asked before. Could they be wasting Justin Jefferson? How the Vikings handle it next week against Detroit and beyond is yet to be seen. Fire up the Jet.
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