We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.
Last season, the Minnesota Vikings tied the Las Vegas Raiders for the single largest difference in rank between points per game and points per game allowed. Kirk Cousins and company were largely excellent, coming in as the 11th-ranked scoring offense on the back of a cool 26.9 points per game. This was a consistent effort: They scored at least 26 points in all but four games, generally putting up numbers against defenses of all shapes and sizes.
This was somewhat surprising to see in large part because of the absence of perennial stud receiver Stefon Diggs, but there’s little doubt the Buffalo Bills don’t regret parting ways with four draft picks to acquire Diggs’ services after his electric 127-1,535-8 campaign.
However, the Vikings shouldn’t feel bad about the trade, either, thanks to the performance of one Justin Jefferson. The rookie sure looked the part of the next big thing in 2020, seamlessly forming one of the league’s most-productive duos at the position alongside Adam Thielen.
Throw in the presence of Dalvin Cook, and you had anyone’s idea of a truly lethal offense. The Vikings joined the Tennessee Titans, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals as the only five teams to boast a positive EPA per run and pass play.
Today we’ll focus on the passing side of things. What follows is a breakdown on just how good both Jefferson and Thielen were in 2020 as well as what we should expect from them as fantasy football assets in 2021.
Jefferson wasn’t just a great rookie receiver; he was a great wide receiver period
Last season, 84 wide receivers had at least 50 targets, and Jefferson nearly outpaced all of them with the exception of Davante Adams in our first two main efficiency statistics.
- PFF receiving grade: 91.0 (No. 2)
- Yards per route run: 2.66 (No. 2)
- Yards per reception: 15.9 (No. 9)
- Yards after the catch per reception: 5.1 (tied for No. 22)
- WR rating: 116.4 (No. 14)
Jefferson joined Calvin Ridley atop the leaderboard in receptions of 20-plus yards (23). His 1,400 receiving yards were the most by a first-year receiver in the Super Bowl era ahead of Anquan Boldin (1,377) and Randy Moss (1,313). His seven games with at least 100 receiving yards are tied with Odell Beckham for the most by a rookie in the past 50 years. Sheesh.
To say Jefferson also passed the eye test is an understatement. Already on the short list of the NFL’s best route-running technicians, Jefferson proved borderline impossible for any mere mortal to deal at just 21 years of age.
78 seconds of Justin Jefferson being exceptional at his jobpic.twitter.com/X0ELo2btMT
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 8, 2021
Incredibly, Jefferson didn’t earn a true starting role until Week 3. From that point on, only Adams, Tyreek Hill and Diggs outscored Jefferson in full PPR fantasy scoring.
Of course, the Vikings’ rising second-year monster isn’t their only high-end weapon at receiver.