Are Justin Jefferson’s expectations for 2020 too high?

(Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) Justin Jefferson
(Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) Justin Jefferson /

History suggests the hype for the Minnesota Vikings rookie may be out of hand.

The Minnesota Vikings are hoping that Justin Jefferson can have a major impact in 2020. After acquiring the LSU product in this year’s NFL Draft as part of the trade that sent Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills, a lot of fans are hoping that Jefferson can hit the field running and fill the giant void in the Vikings offense.

In the opening weeks of Minnesota’s training camp, Jefferson is showing signs that he’ll be able to do just that. The team released a highlight reel of Jefferson’s catches on social media recently and the immediate reaction has been that Jefferson will be the No. 2 receiver and make everyone forget about Diggs.

But before we put Jefferson into the Vikings Ring of Honor prior to playing a snap, should we also be asking the question if his expectations are getting too high for his rookie year?

Young Minnesota Vikings receiver has an opportunity for a big rookie year

Part of the formula for a breakout rookie season is opportunity and Jefferson is expected to get plenty of that heading into 2020. With Diggs in Buffalo now, the second receiver spot on Minnesota’s roster is his for the taking.

Last year, Diggs had 94 targets in that role and he turned them into 63 catches for 1,130 yards and six touchdowns. While Diggs would have loved to have seen more action, that should be enough for Jefferson to put up a good line even if Adam Thielen leads the Vikings in targets this season.

In addition to his potential opportunities, the rookies’ usage might differ from the role that Diggs played last year as a deep threat.

Speaking to reporters back in May, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak observed that Jefferson was used a lot like Michael Thomas during his junior season at LSU. The two had a similar stat line as a result with Jefferson logging 111 catches 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns with the Tigers.

Later in the offseason, Kubiak also confirmed that he would be using the rookie receiver in the slot, where he played 92.8 percent of his snaps last season with LSU.

The opportunity to play a lot of snaps combined with the scheme tailoring to his strengths should help flatten any learning curve Jefferson may have coming into the NFL. Unfortunately, “flattening the curve” has taken on a different meaning this offseason.

Every Minnesota Vikings rookie has an uphill climb in training camp

The 2020 offseason has been something else as Jefferson finally hit the field wearing a Vikings helmet for the first time this past week. Normally, he would have met his coaches, ran some reps, and even learned the twists and turns inside TCO Performance Center by the time we hit August. But this year is not the case.

Even as Minnesota reported for training camp, Jefferson was one of the bigger names to be placed on the team’s Reserve/COVID-19 list. His stay on the list does not mean that he contracted the virus (as teams are not required to disclose that information), but it added another week of him waiting to get on the field.

Yes, the Vikings had plenty of virtual OTAs to discuss the playbook and complete the whiteboard part of the offseason, but there’s still a difference in having the in-person element. (anyone who has turned into a teacher for their children during the pandemic would probably agree).

This is a big mountain for any rookie to climb, but the wide receiver position hasn’t produced many superstars in their rookie seasons. Outside of Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014, no first-round receiver has come close to sniffing the effort that Randy Moss put up in 1998, and even if Jefferson is eventually going to become a stud, it might be too much to make up for the loss of Diggs.

What should we expect from the Minnesota Vikings rookie receiver?

This article doesn’t mean to say we absolutely won’t see a monster rookie campaign from Jefferson. In one of the most highly-touted receiver classes in recent memory, there’s an outside chance this young group of first-year pass-catchers could take the NFL by storm and Jefferson could very well be a part of that.

But to expect the Minnesota rookie to seamlessly fill in for Diggs immediately will result in a colossal disappointment.

If anything, Jefferson’s expectations could be molded around what Diggs did in his rookie season. Although Diggs didn’t make his debut until Week 4 of his rookie year, his 2015 numbers were still solid, catching 52 passes for 720 yards and four touchdowns.

Those may be disappointing stats for those who want Jefferson to erase Diggs from Vikings history,.But it’s better than the 27-345-0 line that Jefferson’s comparison, Reggie Wayne, put up in his rookie year.

Must Read. 5 bold predictions for Vikings training camp. light

Minnesota will certainly hope for more from their new offensive toy. But in a season with many moving parts, it might be what they have to settle for.