After a dull month with no sports, football and fantasy fans finally had some juice watching the 2020 NFL Draft. With each pick made, there is always the battle of excitement and indecision from spectators.
Fans have a passion for players that they believe will help their team win this year, along the roller coaster ride of their favorite team's history. When their team doesn't select a player they want, it creates a sense of disappointment, especially if that NFL franchise has struggled to win games.
The backdrop of the NFL draft is how the new inventory fits into the current fantasy market. In fantasy sports, the common folk get to live the dream of building their fantasy teams each year with the quest to win a league title.
Once a player is drafted to a new NFL team, the minds of fantasy owners race with speculation of which players will have a better opportunity in 2020, regardless of where they were selected in the real football world.
In the first round on this year's draft, there were six wide receivers selected (Henry Ruggs – 12th, Jerry Jeudy – 15th, CeeDee Lamb – 17th, Jalen Reagor – 21st, Justin Jefferson – 22nd, and Brandon Aiyuk – 25th). For a mental picture of the top wide receivers in this year's draft, here's a look at the top 15 prospects that I wrote about for Sports Illustrated.
Each of these wide receivers will be compared to each other over their history in the NFL. General managers and head coaches may lose jobs by making poor decisions in their player evaluations.
My task today is to take a look at how WR Justin Jefferson fits in with the Vikings in 2020.
Last year, the Minnesota Vikings had regression as a passing team due to the emergence of RB Dalvin Cook. They also lost their top wide receiver, Adam Thielen, for a good part of the season. The trade of WR Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills in the offseason does create a hit the ground running opportunity for Jefferson in his rookie season.
Offensive stats for the Vikings (2017-2019)
In 2018, QB Kirk Cousins ranked fourth in the NFL in passing attempts (606), which led to him producing two top-ten seasons for his wide receivers (Adam Thielen – 113/1373/9 and Stefon Diggs – 102/1021/9). Cousins completed 270 balls to his WRs for 2,969 yards and 24 TDs.
Last year Minnesota attempted 140 fewer passes (23 percent drop). Their WRs caught only 137 passes for 2,128 yards and 16 TDs on 208 targets. Diggs (63/1130/6) transitioned into more of a deep threat while Thielen finished with 30 catches for 418 yards and six TDs over ten games of action.
Part of the issue in 2019 for the passing game for the Vikings was that Minnesota didn't need to throw to win in Week 1 (98/1) followed by three short passing games (230/1, 174/1, and 233/0).
This year Jefferson slides right into Diggs' role in the Vikings' offense. Over his previous four years, Diggs caught 450 passes for 3,903 yards and 26 TDs on 450 targets over 57 games. In essence, he averaged 7.9 catches for 68 yards and 0.46 TDs per game over this stretch.
My pre-draft Justin Jefferson scouting profile
The rise of Joe Burrow was a big win for Jefferson in 2019. Over his 15 games in a national championship season, he caught 111 passes for 1,540 yards and 18 TDs highlighted by his dominating performance in his 14th game against Oklahoma (14/227/4). The previous year he led LSU as well in wide receiver production (54/875/6), but the team's offense was mediocre at best.
At this NFL combine, Jefferson ran a 4.43 forty yard dash, but he didn't participate in many of the other drills testing strength and quickness.
His game showed a significant edge when getting a defender in trail positions, where Jefferson showed the ability to make late adjustments to secure tightly contested ball. At the goal line, he had value in 2019 on the outside on fades plus the feel to work the middle of the deep zone on crossing patterns.
Jefferson had growth last season after a switch to the slot. His quickness in that role can't match some of the best WRs in the NFL while needing some work on his route running. If asked to play outside, he'll take a hit in value when working the deep areas of the field. Jefferson plays with vision while showcasing sneaky speed in the open field.
My 2020 Vikings early projections
Based on last year's profile and the current structure of the Vikings' offense, I have Justin Jefferson catching 61 passes for 811 yards and five TDs in his rookie season.
I bumped up Minnesota's passing attempts to about the league average (35 per game). Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison will remain active in the passing game out of the backfield, plus TE Irv Smith has a chance to be much improved this year. For now, the tight end splits remain close for both Kyle Rudolph and Smith.
If Jefferson scored over 170 fantasy points in PPR leagues (based on my projections), he would be a back-end WR3 with more upside if he hits the ground running. His late April ADP is 167, as the 57th WR drafted. I expect him to move up in drafts going forward.
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