Why the Vikings should line Justin Jefferson in the backfield more often

(Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports) Justin Jefferson
(Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports) Justin Jefferson /

Justin Jefferson is the best playmaker for the Minnesota Vikings and it is time they start treating him like it.

After voicing some of his concern with a lack of touches earlier this season, Minnesota Vikings star Justin Jefferson has been nothing short of amazing. With two straight performances of 140-plus total yards, Jefferson is putting on a clinic as the Vikings fight for a playoff spot.

Obviously, Jefferson is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL regardless of the fact that he’s only in his second season. His arrival has made the loss of Stefon Diggs a thing of the past for Minnesota and he has given fans a new sign of hope for the future. As good as he’s been, there is still room for him to be an even larger part of the offense.

We saw a brief glimpse of how nightmarish the sophomore wide receiver can be during the Vikings’ upset win over the Green Bay Packers in Week 11. Jefferson’s first touchdown of the game came as a receiver out of the backfield, a formation that created a favorable mismatch for the young superstar.

The trend of getting stars the ball however possible is nothing new, but it is something that can be of use for the Vikings. Jefferson and Adam Thielen have both lined up in the backfield at times over the past two seasons and it finally paid off on Sunday. In Week 12, Minnesota will square off with one of the staples of that trend in San Francisco wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

Minnesota Vikings should have Justin Jefferson line up in the backfield more often this season

San Francisco has done an excellent job of using Samuel as a backfield weapon this season. With so many injuries to running backs and a desire to get their star the ball, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has made Samuel a focal part of the run game. The Vikings also get the ball to Jefferson on jet sweeps to try and create plays through their best player on the ground.

Over the past two weeks, Samuel has carried the ball 13 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns. That is going to be a problem for Minnesota on Sunday, but it is also a good blueprint for their own star receiver.

Deebo is easily a better runner than Jefferson and the idea of the Vikings using him as a ball-carrier is not necessarily as enticing. Getting him the ball is always a good idea and a carry or two each game is not going to hurt anybody, but Jefferson needs to be in the backfield as a receiving threat.

With so many weapons in the offense, it would not ruin the Vikings’ gameplan if Jefferson was put in the backfield more to create mismatches against linebackers or safeties. Thielen and K.J. Osborn can make plays on the outside, as could Tyler Conklin and Dalvin Cook if matched up with linebackers.

Kene Nwangwu, Minnesota’s rookie running back with a ton of speed, could also get involved in the offense this way. Nwangwu has been nothing but a kick returner so far in his young career, but putting him on the outside against a safety or linebacker would give the Vikings yet another element of speed that creates havoc for opposing defenses.

Nwangwu would also be a threat out of the backfield as a receiver or runner, but that is an argument for another time. For now, focusing on Jefferson and maximizing his touches is the focal point.

Kirk Cousins has been very good at times this season and that usually happens when he trusts his top receivers. Cook is still a dynamic runner and he should be a key piece of the offense, but the days of going through him are over. Minnesota offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak needs to get creative with Cook and Jefferson by putting them together in the backfield more often.

The Packers did something similar in Week 11 when they motioned Randall Cobb into the backfield to run a triple option with A.J. Dillon. They put the ball into the hands of their top playmakers in a big moment and walked away with a huge conversion.

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This is something that could intrigue Vikings fans as they try to keep the offense rolling in the right direction. As good as C.J. Ham is as a fullback, Minnesota needs to let him serve as a blocker and give his touches to the true playmakers.