Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson made the most of a game with little on the line between Minnesota and the Detroit Lions by etching his name in NFL history twice on Sunday afternoon.
Entering Week 17 with 1,267 receiving yards, Jefferson needed 111 yards in the Vikings’ season finale to set a new Super Bowl-era (since 1966) rookie record. He broke the mark established by Arizona’s Anquan Boldin (1,377) in 2003 upon catching a 14-yard pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins in the third quarter of Minnesota’s 37-35 victory. With 1,400 yards for the season, the first-rounder ranks second all time behind Houston’s Bill Groman, who holds the rookie record (1,473) set in 1960.
Two drives before he broke Boldin’s record, Jefferson set the franchise rookie record for receiving yards. Wearing custom cleats that paid homage to Hall of Famer Randy Moss, Jefferson caught a 15-yard pass in the third quarter to break the Vikings’ mark (1,313) set by Moss in 1998.
“It’s an honor to break Randy Moss’ record,” Jefferson said. “Him being a Hall of Famer and him just being so dominant in this league, so to break his record is truly a blessing. It’s truly crazy to be in this position. The cleats, I had to honor him. I had a good chance to break the record today, so I had to put him on the cleats. I gotta get him to sign them so I can put them in my trophy case.”
Jefferson capped off the final game of the season with a team-high nine catches for 133 yards in the Vikings’ win.
Last month, against Chicago, Jefferson surpassed Moss’ franchise record of 69 catches in his rookie season. Sunday marked the former LSU star’s seventh 100-yard receiving game of the season.
“I haven’t talked to him about records and things like that,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “I don’t know if he really worries too much about those things. He just likes to play football. The thing, like he made one catch on the sideline today reaching way out to get it, those kind of plays are the impressive ones to me. There’s been several throughout the course of the year where guys are draped all over him and he comes down with the ball because he’s got such good catch radius. He’s a big kid, runs fast and I think he’ll continue to get better and better. And people are really cheating coverages to him quite a bit now the last few weeks.”
Jefferson represented 32.8% of the Vikings’ receiving yards in 2020, which ranks fourth in the NFL, and accounted for 21.9% of his team’s yards from scrimmage. In spite of Minnesota’s owning the sixth-highest designed-run percentage in the NFL, Jefferson still totaled 88 catches and seven touchdowns.
“In this offense we’re going to run the football, so that’s going to open up a lot of explosive plays for Justin, but he also has to stay patient because [there’s] going to be times where we’re running the ball well and we’re not throwing it to him every play,” Cousins said. “He did a great job this year of being ready when his number was called and just continuing to show up for us. And it’s also impressive to look back and realize that the role he had for us Week 1 and Week 2 was not the same role he had Week 3 and beyond. That’s encouraging as well to think what he could have done with two more weeks as the ‘X.'”
Jefferson was behind Olabisi Johnson on the depth chart for the first two weeks of the season, totaling five catches for 70 yards against the Packers and Colts. After he exploded onto the scene in a Week 3 loss to Tennessee in which he caught seven passes for 175 yards and a touchdown, the rookie remained a consistent target for Cousins.
The rookie’s achievements in 14 games made him wonder postgame what he might have accomplished had he been utilized more from the start of the season.
“Exactly,” Jefferson said. “What if I would’ve had those two games starting? And having the same targets I had this year. Who knows what I would’ve did with that? I guess I’ll just wait until next year to start out from Week 1 and hopefully I get more yards than I did this year.”