Justin Jefferson On Proving 'Slot-Only' Evaluators Wrong, Goals For 2021

Photo: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

A lot was said about how deep and talented the group of wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft. were. Many felt that it was perhaps the strongest class of all time when it came to elite pass-catchers.

Plenty of those big names showed promise and potential in their first seasons, but there was one player that, at least for now, established himself as the top pass-catcher of the group.

That player is Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson. It took a couple of weeks for Jefferson to come on, but he never looked back after a Week 3 breakout performance against the Tennessee Titans that saw him roast Tennessee’s secondary for 175 yards and a touchdown. By the time the Vikings closed the book on their 2020 season, Jefferson had set the NFL record for the most receiving yards (1,400) by a rookie in NFL history (Super Bowl era), surpassing a record set by the legendary Anquan Boldin in 2003.

I had an opportunity to discuss Jefferson’s legendary rookie season with him. From the goals he’s setting for his sophomore season to how good it felt to prove his pre-draft naysayers wrong, this is a peek into the mind of one of the NFL’s brightest young stars.

JM: The NFL draft is fast approaching. You’re almost a year removed from your draft experience. How do you look back on that period of your life?

JJ: This whole year has been pretty crazy for me. It started with me playing for a National Championship at LSU. We brought the title home and it was an amazing feeling. Shortly thereafter, I began training for the combine. It just felt like one thing after another. It was such an exciting time for me. I got drafted and had a historic rookie season. The entire year is definitely going down as an incredibly notable one for my life and career.

JM: How satisfying was it to prove those who called you a slot-only receiver wrong? You made that “take” look incredibly silly.

JJ: I’m not gonna lie, it felt great to prove those people wrong (laughs). I was so confident in my game. I knew what I was capable of and I was definitely never going to limit myself to being a slot-only receiver at the next level. I knew that I could play both inside and outside. I’ve always had that versatility to my game. To prove those naysayers wrong, and to have the year that I had, I couldn’t ask for any of it to have gone differently.

JM: How do you even set goals for your sophomore season after obliterating Minnesota’s rookie record book? What can you possibly set your sights on now?

JJ: I’m gonna try to have an even better year than I had in my rookie season (laughs). I know that I outperformed a lot of people’s expectations. Not many people were expecting me to do what I did. I completely destroyed the goals that I set for myself. Going into my second year, I have to do better than I did a year ago.

JM: You played alongside Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. at LSU, two excellent receivers that are about to get drafted. What are some of their best qualities?

JJ: Both of those guys are tremendous players. They’re also excellent people. You’re talking about two great football players. They both have the right attitude to succeed at the next level. I can’t wait to watch them be great. I know they’re going to do whatever possible to make big plays during their rookie seasons. I’m excited to see what Ja’Marr does after having a whole year off. I hope he hasn’t missed a beat. Both of those guys will be ready for the challenge.

JM: Is there a receiver in the NFL that you admire or think deserves more love from the national media?

JJ: I admire a lot of receivers. Guys like Odell Beckham Jr., Davante Adams, Keenan Allen, and DeAndre Hopkins come to mind. I admire a lot of people in general. 

To answer your question, I think Keenan Allen is underrated. He definitely doesn’t get the respect that he deserves. He’s been a dominant receiver in this league for such a long time now. He’s put in the time and we need to recognize him as a great (player). He’s been doing some tremendous things as of late. He should receive the love that he deserves.

JM: I’ve really appreciated your time today, Justin. In closing, the NFL draft is fast approaching and you went through this experience last year. It’s going to be heavily impacted by COVID-19, just like your draft story was. Do you have any advice to offer the upcoming class of prospects on how to best handle this unique process?

JJ: I would just tell them that no matter what they go through during this process, even if they get drafted earlier or later than they expected, just stay true to yourself. Be confident in your abilities. Keep that spark with you, keep that chip on your shoulder. Everybody needs that determination to be successful at the next level. You need to have some “want to” about you. 

Show up every day with the mindset of a veteran instead of a rookie. Be a professional. That’s the attitude that allows you to take the league by storm. Stay consistent and be true to yourself. Always stay true to your game.

Written By:

Justin Melo

Staff Writer

Justin Melo is an NFL draft analyst that cut his teeth at The Draft Breakdown and USA Today's Draft Wire. He specializes in interviewing prospects, but also produces big boards, mock drafts, and scouting reports. He also covers the Tennessee Titans nationally for Broadway Sports Media and SB Nation.