Matthew Coller is a published author and football writer who covers the Vikings. He also writes a weekly Vikings column for Bring Me The News, in addition to hosting a livestream on the Bring Me The News YouTube and Facebook pages every Tuesday. You can find more of his work at Purple Insider.
I can’t remember where the joke comes from but I remember once hearing someone crack that Shaq made less money when he came into the NBA than he was making at LSU. I was reminded of that when Justin Jefferson came into the league and instantly dominated without his superstar profile really changing. He broke rookie records in his first year as a Minnesota Viking but didn’t really become more famous than he was in college because he was really famous in college.
Last year Jefferson’s high school receivers coach told me that he was just about the most popular person in the state of Louisiana. When that coach would go to his daughter’s volleyball tournaments, players would come and ask him, “do you really know Justin Jefferson?”
That’s what it’s like to be a college superstar at LSU. Jefferson not only led the Tigers to a national championship but popularized the “Griddy” dance, which has spread so much that it’s in the video game Fortnite and was seen in the Olympics.
“That was fire,” Jefferson said on Wednesday at TCO Performance Center. “That was really cool to see the Germany soccer player do that, and throw his V’s and everything, that was awesome.”
If Jefferson hadn’t played a single down in the NFL, he still would have still been pushing Tim Tebow’s post-career recognizability in his home state.
With two brothers who also played on the big stage at LSU, fame just doesn’t seem to have the same impact on Jefferson as it might on any other 22-year-old receiver who took off like a rocketship the minute he stepped on the field as a starter.
Jefferson racked up 175 yards receiving in his first game and never looked back, totaling 1,400 for the season. But heading into Year 2, he’s finding areas of his game that will need to be improved if he’s going to replicate his first season.
He worked out in Florida with Browns star receiver Jarvis Landry and put extra focus on one particular area that he saw as a weakness.
“Really my balance, just staying balanced and having that body control,” Jefferson said. “Now that I’ve had a whole offseason to work on that, I’m definitely more confident in being stronger in my stance and getting in and out of my breaks.”
Nobody else would have said he needed work getting out of his breaks after grading as Pro Football Focus’s second best receiver last season but he elected to work with speed and agility coach Mo Wells to sharpen his skills.
Jefferson isn’t only showing up with better body control, he’s showing up with more self belief. Even guys who are massive celebrities in Louisiana need to prove it to themselves before they can believe it. This year Jefferson said he’s much more comfortable now, especially with the circumstances surrounding training camp being much less chaotic than last year.
“Me having the season I had last year with so many different inconveniences,” Jefferson said. “Now going into this year, having a whole year with Kirk and the rest of the guys on this team, I feel way more confident. I feel like I’m going to do even more, better than I did last year.”
The thing about putting your name on the map as a rising star is that the entire league takes notice. Last year Jefferson said he could see defenses starting to gameplan for him differently as the season went along. So he’ll have to be better this year in order to achieve the same results.
Kirk Cousins said that’s what it’s all about: Being able to do it year after year.
“If he were to have the exact same season he had last year and do it like 12 or 13 times, he’s probably going to Canton, I would guess,” Cousins said. “I’m not saying that to put pressure on him, I’m just saying when you talk about ‘what’s the next step?’ it’s not changing who he is, it’s doing it again. And then doing it again, and then doing it again and I think it’s more about consistency than it is about changing. So, the challenge in football... don’t just be someone who has a good run. Be someone who can sustain it and I think that’ll be the challenge. It’s really not changing anything, it’s just do it again…do it again and do it again and do it again and be consistent.”
Jefferson showed that he has the talent to do it again during his rookie year, catching nearly 73% of passes in his direction, producing a top-20 contested catch rate and 116.4 QB rating on throws in his direction (per PFF).
But he’ll take any extra motivation he can get.
Jefferson was left off the top 10 rated receivers by the newest Madden football video game. Asked if he saw the snub, Jefferson said, “I did. I did. I did.”
“That’s more motivation for me,” he said. “I wasn’t in any of the Top 10 in the rankings, so I’ve definitely got something to prove this year.”
Under goals for Year 2, Jefferson will be looking to earn the same recognition league wide that Louisiana football fans gave him after he led them to a national championship. Leading a top-notch Vikings offense certainly wouldn’t hurt in that endeavor.
“I feel like this year is going to be big for this whole team,” Jefferson said.