Vikings Justin Jefferson fueled by rejection

The surprise star knows exactly which receivers were drafted before him, and which teams passed

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) catches a pass in the third quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Luq Barcoo (36) Sunday, Dec. 6, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

Justin Jefferson was the fifth receiver taken in the 2020 NFL Draft.

That meant a night of waiting as Henry Ruggs went to the Oakland Raiders, Jerry Jeudy went to the Denver Broncos, CeeDee Lamb went to the Dallas Cowboys and Jalen Reagor went to the Philadelphia Eagles before finally being taken by the Minnesota Vikings with the 22nd overall pick.

You best believe Jefferson remembers the names of the players that went ahead of him.

Asked if if he enjoys proving those teams wrong, Jefferson let out a toothy grin before replying, “I love it.”


While it will be tough for Jefferson to chase down Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the fact that he’s in the conversation in any capacity is a testament to his dominance this season. He leads rookie receivers with 61 catches and 1,039 yards, and trails only Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Chase Claypool for the lead in touchdowns.

Not bad for a guy many thought would struggle to assimilate.

There was a preconceived notion that Jefferson wouldn’t be able to win matchups on the outside, and thus would only be able to thrive on the inside at the next level. Perhaps it was because he starred as a slot receiver during LSU’s dominant run to the national championship.

Nonetheless, many talent evaluators pigeonholed Jefferson into the slot receiver position before he ever stepped on an NFL practice field. Never mind the fact that he had played outside receiver his entire life leading up to that point.

“I don’t really know exactly where they were getting that information from,” Jefferson said. “I don’t really understand why they assumed that. I fell to the perfect team and perfect situation for me. I couldn’t ask for anything more than to be on this team with these guys and to compete for a championship.”

It’s been a match made in heaven with Jefferson playing either alongside or opposite fellow star receiver Adam Thielen. Both players have the ability to line up anywhere, which has made the Vikings particularly tough to defend and given offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak a wide array of options when calling the game.

Kubiak admitted Jefferson’s emergence has come quicker than anyone could have imagined when he was drafted.


“He’s been able to play all over the place,” Kubiak said. “He’s made as many catches outside as he has inside. His overall game is what’s been really impressive, to move around on the field, go outside, and have to get physical with corners, come inside, and work against nickels.”

That’s made life easier for quarterback Kirk Cousins, who complimentary following last Sunday’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“We are only 12 games into his career,” Cousins said. “There’s a lot of football up ahead of him, and I think our fan base should be excited about what he will be able to do.”

To say the sky is the limit for Jefferson might be an understatement considering what he’s done so far this season. He certainly won’t be lacking motivation going forward, knowing that with each passing game, each perfectly run route, each spectacular grab, he can make those teams pay for passing on him.

“That’s what kind of fuels my game,” Jefferson said. “Just having in the back of my mind that there are always people that doubt me doing certain things, and there are always people that have hatred towards me, or whatever. I use that as fuel towards my game. Just go out there and try to prove everybody wrong.”

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