Justin Jefferson set the record for the most receiving yards (3,016) in a player’s first two seasons in the NFL and his 196 catches tied Michael Thomas’ mark of catches in the first two years. So it sounds ridiculous to say that Jefferson will enter 2022 with an opportunity to improve his statistics, but that is a feeling many share with offensive-minded coach Kevin O’Connell now in charge of the Vikings.
O’Connell, who replaced Mike Zimmer as Vikings’ coach after last season, had served as offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and was part of a Sean McVay-led coaching staff that utilized standout wide receiver Cooper Kupp in multiple ways. Last season, Kupp fell only 18 yards shy of breaking Calvin Johnson’s single-season record of 1,964 receiving yards.
Jefferson will play the Kupp role in Minnesota and the Vikings’ first pick in the 2020 draft is excited for an opportunity that should put him in a spot, or spots, to where he is never considered to be taken away by defenses.
“Just seeing what Cooper Kupp did last year, that gives me so much hope, gives me so much excitement to see what I can do in the same position that he was,” Jefferson told The Ringer’s NFL podcast. “Him being so close to reaching the record, him getting that triple crown, all those things that he accomplished are up in the air for me right now, so we just gotta buy into the system, learn the plays and we all have confidence that KO is going to distribute the ball to different people throughout the offense.”
Jefferson’s receiving yards since joining the Vikings lead the NFL and he needs 1,148 yards this season to establish the NFL mark for the most in a player’s first three seasons. Randy Moss had 4,163 yards from 1998 to 2000 after being drafted by the Vikings’ in the first round in ’98. Jefferson’s 1,616 receiving yards last season fell 17 short of passing Moss’ single-season record of 1,632 yards set in 2003.
Jefferson said that while he expects to be used like Kupp was with the Rams — a big part of moving him around will be to force defenses to show their plan pre-snap — he expects to have even more versatility.
“Pretty much where Cooper Kupp was at, that’s pretty much where I’m at,” Jefferson said. “But my ability to move in different positions is gonna be more. I’m able to go outside. You don’t really see Cooper Kupp lining up outside as many times as I would. Or me lining up in the backfield or lining up at different positions to get the ball.”
If Jefferson puts up the type of statistics many expect under O’Connell, the numbers he will get on a potential contract extension after the season also will be enormous. Tyreek Hill, traded by Kansas City to Miami this offseason, will have the top average annual salary among wide receivers for 2022 at $30 million. Former Packer Davante Adams, who was traded to the Raiders, is second on the list at $28 million.
Jefferson, 23, is under contract through 2024, including a fifth-year option, but he will be eligible to sign an extension after his third season. Jefferson’s base salary for 2022 will be $1.8 million and his salary-cap hit will be $3.6 million.
- Miguel Sano, who underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in early May, is 1-for-7 in two rehab games with the Florida Complex (Rookie) League Twins in the Gulf Coast League. The Twins will have to make a decision on Sano sooner rather than later, considering position players have a 20-day clock to return once they start a rehab assignment. Sano’s last rehab stop likely will be with the Triple-A St. Paul Saints. Considering the Twins are in first place, and have better options at first base than Sano, it will be interesting to see what the team does. Sano could be used at designated hitter, but manager Rocco Baldelli is using a variety of players in that role, including Byron Buxton. Buxton has a set number of days off each week, but also is used at DH to keep him fresh. Sano was slashing .093/.231/.148 with a home run and three RBIs in 17 games before he was injured.
- Oakland righthander Frankie Montas, who is expected to be moved by the trade deadline and could be a target of the Twins, underwent an MRI that revealed shoulder inflammation but did not show any structural damage, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Montas was pulled from his start after one inning on Sunday and will receive a cortisone injection. He will miss his next start, but isn’t going on the injured list at this point. The A’s will be looking for a substantial return for Montas, in part because he’s under team control through 2023. The 29-year-old has a 3.26 ERA in 17 starts this season. He is only 3-9, but the A’s are a major-league worst 28-55.
- Tim Connelly, the Timberwolves’ new president of basketball operations, has received plenty of criticism nationally for sending five players and four first-round picks to the Utah Jazz last week for All-Star center Rudy Gobert, but the oddsmakers in Las Vegas like the deal for the Wolves. At least in the short term. The Wolves entered last week with 66/1 odds to win the NBA Finals in 2022-23. Those odds went to 40/1 after the trade.
- While the Wolves-Jazz trade caused comparisons to the Herschel Walker deal in 1989, when the Vikings sent multiple draft picks and players to the Cowboys for the running back, there is one huge difference. Vikings general manager Mike Lynn traded for a player who did not fit Jerry Burns’ offensive scheme and it quickly became clear that was an issue. There will be no such issue with Gobert, who will fit what coach Chris Finch wants to do and benefit guys like Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards.
- Here’s some Reckless Speculation: As the Timberwolves continue to conduct a search for Dave Benz’s replacement as play-by-play announcer on Bally Sports North, you have to wonder if Gus Johnson’s name has come up? Johnson did play-by-play for the Wolves for a couple of seasons in the 1990s and is the lead voice for college football and basketball on Fox. The Wolves supposedly want to make a splash with this hire — this will be a theme with owners-in-waiting Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez — and Johnson is a well-known voice. The Wolves also could consider using a few different people to pair with standout analyst Jim Petersen. Would the Wolves put a call into Kevin Harlan to see if he would work a few games? The 62-year-old already has plenty on his plate with NBA duties on TNT and NFL games on CBS, but having the original voice of the Wolves around for even a few games would be considered a splash.
- Former Twins closer Glen Perkins has proven to be a natural in the television booth and should get the opportunity to work as many games as he wants.