Written by Zachary Gartin
Welcome back to The Post-Corner everyone! A long weekend full of NFL games left me with one question at the end of it. Who should I take a look at, and why should it be Minnesota Vikings rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson?
In all honestly, I had a couple of intriguing players that I was thinking of featuring on this week’s Post-Corner for various reasons. Chris Conley, Allen Lazard, and Allen Robinson were all names that piqued my interest, but Justin Jefferson’s performance took the spotlight. Totalling 175 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions will do that for you here at the Post-Corner. Also, any celebration that covers almost 15 yards automatically puts you into consideration for this article.
If you weren’t here last week, here’s the quick summary of what I do here at the Post-Corner. I ask all of the important questions about the performance of a wide receiver in the past week.
Where is the player lining up?
What routes is the player running?
How is this player winning or losing on these routes?
Why is the player winning? Is it the scheme, talent, or a little bit of both?
Is this type of performance going to happen again?
I’ll be answering these questions weekly about a receiver that I select, and this week it will be Justin Jefferson. So let’s dive in!
Where is Justin Jefferson lining up?
The answer to this question genuinely surprised me. From everything I had seen about the LSU offense, Justin Jefferson was primarily a slot receiver who moonlighted as an outside guy every now and again. And usually, you’ll see NFL coaches try to keep it simple for rookies by allowing them to play in situations they are more accustomed to.
Gary Kubiak (Viking Offensive Coordinator) couldn’t care less about that, putting Justin Jefferson on the outside 44 times, compared to just 7 on the inside. A majority of the time, he was on the lone receiver side, facing one-on-one coverage against the Titan’s corners. The reason this initially surprised me is that rookie receivers tend to struggle in their first season, so putting one on an island against even decent NFL corners doesn’t seem like the right decision. But we all have to remember that in a Kubiak offense, you are playing in a lot of 12 or 21 personnel, creating situations where there is a lot of single receiver sides. And with the Vikings week receiver room (only 5 receptions by wide receivers not named Justin Jefferson or Adam Theilen this season) already very weak, it starts to make a bit more sense.
Jefferson, despite his limited snaps in the slot, was really effective, scoring his lone touchdown on a play where he started from the slot and recording 115 of his 175 total yards from that spot. I would love to see Jefferson working from the slot more, but I doubt that happens while Kubiak is running the show in Minneapolis.
What routes are Justin Jefferson running?
Jefferson ran a decently varied route tree against the Titans, running eight different kinds of routes this past Sunday. His most common route was a go, or “9” route, with eight of them. That was followed by the out (six times), hitch (four times), Crosser (four times), dig (two times), and post (two times).
A lot of these routes are designed to be run from the single receiver side. The Go and out routes take advantage of one-on-one coverage with no underneath of over the top help while the hitches and digs play off of those routes, presenting a vertical threat before shutting it down and winning with his transition, something Jefferson does very well.
How is Justin Jefferson Winning?
Quick hips, attacking leverage, and strong hands. Those were the things that got him drafted at 22 to the Vikings, and they were all on display against the Titans. In the play from the above section, he attacks the DB’s leverage before breaking down in a flash and accelerating out of the break to create instant separation. These were evident all day through a variety of different routes, helping him get consistently open.
Justin Jefferson didn’t just win with his route running though. He showed strong hands in contested catch situations, especially the one below. He uses a hesitation release to get a step on the cornerback before showing the same knack for tracking and adjusting that he showed at LSU, making a tough catch on a bad throw from Cousins.
Winning in multiple different ways is always good, and that’s what Jefferson did this past weekend. Promising stuff from the young rookie.
Why is Justin Jefferson winning? Is it scheme, talent, or both?
Last week, I used a percentage scale to tell you what I think the answer to that question is, and I’ll be doing it again.
60% Talent, 40% scheme.
Jeffersons’ biggest plays, especially the touchdown and one other play that was nearly a TD, were generally schemed open through motion and alignment. He still had to take advantage by freezing the defensive backs feet or stacking the defensive back in the route. But creating open space for Jefferson was a lot of Kubiak’s doing. That’s why the 60-40 split here. Jefferson is still a talented receiver, and will probably take advantage of a lot of different opportunities throughout this season because of the scheme.
Is this performance sustainable?
Compared to last week, this is a much tougher question. While the baseline for a good NFL receiver is there, Jefferson still showed some flaws. During some routes, he took a very simple and non-aggressive approach that allowed defensive backs to sit comfortably in their leverage without ever really being threatened vertically. Better defensive backs will feast on these types of routes, and Jefferson will have to get a bit more creative in his route running to counter that.
But like I said earlier. The baseline for a good NFL receiver is there. While I don’t think Jefferson is a week in-week out, top of the line performer just yet, he can still be a good receiver throughout. His ability to come in and out of breaks in an instant, control leverage (at times), and attack the ball are all things that mark a good receiver. Consistency and creativity are the last things he needs.
Stuff like this won’t happen every week, but it will happen more than once. Don’t miss out when it does.