Zone Coverage: Anquan Boldin is a better comp for Justin Jefferson than Randy Moss

Jefferson's remarkable rookie season has drawn comparison to Moss.
Publish date:
Justin Jefferson

This story first appeared at Zone Coverage and was re-shared through a collaboration with Bring Me The News

In a year filled with uncertainty, Justin Jefferson has become a constant for the Minnesota Vikings. On Sunday, Jefferson became the fifth player in NFL history to record 1,000 receiving yards in his first 12 games. Only Randy Moss (1998), Anquan Boldin (2003), Marques Colston (2006) and Odell Beckham Jr. (2014) have accomplished the same feat.

While all of those players had unique ways of reaching the milestone, it’s natural to want to see how Jefferson compares to those players. Moss is an easy comparison. As the only other receiver in franchise history to record a 1,000-yard season as a rookie, Moss broke the system and changed the way teams defended the pass, but it isn’t quite what Jefferson has done this season.

Instead, Jefferson’s rise to superstardom has looked a lot like Boldin, who broke in with the Arizona Cardinals in 2003.

Stepping into a “scorched earth” scenario, Boldin wasn’t even the first receiver Arizona selected in that year’s draft class. A converted quarterback from Florida State, Boldin had a crash course in playing receiver but quickly turned into one of the most dominant targets in the NFL.

Playing in an offense that included Marcel Shipp and the corpse of Emmitt Smith to “take attention away from him,” Boldin immediately became options A-through-Z for the Cardinals offense. In his first career game, Boldin hung 217 yards and two touchdowns on the Detroit Lions and became a pillar of consistency.

Boldin posted five or more catches 12 times during his rookie year and was held under 50 yards just three times. With nobody else around, Boldin was used in every way imaginable both as a possession receiver and as a deep threat. This helped lead him to the most receiving yards ever by a rookie with 1,377.

Consider that, much like Boldin, Jefferson got a crash course playing receiver, but his took place during his time at LSU.

In a league that is locked into specialization and putting players where they succeed, Jefferson played all over during his career with the Tigers. After finding success on the outside during his sophomore year, Jefferson exploded when Joe Brady decided to move him into the slot for his junior season.

Being paired with Joe Burrow certainly didn’t hurt, but Jefferson went on to have one of the best seasons by a receiver in NCAA history with 111 catches, 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns.

That path from being a zero-star recruit to first-round draft pick helped fuel Jefferson when he got into the NFL. With experience at all positions, Jefferson’s learning curve was small even after working behind Bisi Johnson for the first two weeks of the season. Once he hit the field, the Vikings have looked to use him as much as possible.

Jefferson’s usage has been on par with Boldin’s despite being featured in an offense that has more weapons than the 2003 Cardinals did. Throwing out his part-time role in the first two weeks, Jefferson has recorded 60 or more yards in eight of his 10 career starts. This is even more impressive when you consider Jefferson has received five or fewer targets in five of those games.

A lot of this is because Jefferson is being used in the same way that Stefon Diggs wanted to be during his last season in Minnesota. While Diggs was primarily asked to run deep routes, Jefferson has won all over the field. On Sunday, Jefferson torched Luq Barcoo with a deep route that helped lead to a touchdown, but he also found the end zone on a short route against the Carolina Panthers in Week 12.

Even more impressive are the routes that Jefferson is running when he’s not getting the ball. That makes Next Gen Stats’ route mapping of Jefferson’s performance against the Panthers look like something a child would draw on a living room wall and creates unpredictability for opposing defenses.


This type of usage is different than what we saw from other receivers who have crossed the 1,000-yard threshold in 12 games. While Moss’s rookie season will likely remain No. 1 in Vikings history, at least when it comes to fan sentiment, his money was made by running as fast as he could downfield and betting his quarterback could throw it far enough to connect. That happened a lot in 1998, and the Vikings rode that all the way to the NFC Championship Game.

Colston also had an instant impact for a Saints team that was rebuilding after multiple decades of bad football, but he spent nearly half of his routes in the slot. Jefferson has had to win in all areas of the field, which has made him a better overall receiver.

Even Beckham was in a similar situation, but there are key differences. While Beckham was used in a similar fashion, he missed the first five weeks of the season before cramming his entire explosive rookie season into 12 games. He was as consistent as Jefferson but came in a smaller sample size.

Jefferson appears to be the most similar to the guy he’ll be chasing for the rookie receiving title. With Jefferson’s role becoming more necessary in the Vikings’ offense, there’s a chance that Jefferson, who is 338 yards away from Boldin’s record with four games to go, could be on his way to making history while doing one thing that Boldin couldn’t: Leading the Vikings into the playoffs.

Next Up

Grand casino

Grand Casino celebrates 30th anniversary with more than cake

Hundreds of thousands of winning dollars are on the table.

Brodd defense witness

As defense starts, expert argues Chauvin's use of force was reasonable

Use-of-force expert Barry Brodd testified on behalf of the defense.

Chet Holmgren

Chet Holmgren named Minnesota's Mr. Basketball

Minnehaha Academy produces back-to-back award winners for the second time in state history.

Byron Buxton

Red Sox out-slug Twins in chilly matinee

Bobby Dalbec hit two RBI doubles to hand the Twins their third straight loss.

Governor Tim Walz

As CDC urges Michigan to shut down, Gov. Walz watches closely

Walz says there are no imminent plans to dial back.


Man, 26, collapses and dies at event center shortly after altercation

The incident was reported Saturday night in Stearns County.

Allina Crossroads Campus

Allina Health will reopen Buffalo clinic after fatal mass shooting

A timeline about when the clinic will reopen hasn't been released.


Justin Jefferson

Justin Jefferson sets NFL record for receiving yards by a rookie

Jefferson also surpassed Randy Moss' franchise record in during Sunday's game in Detroit.

Justin Jefferson

Justin Jefferson, Jared Allen get snubbed at NFL Honors

Jefferson was snubbed for the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Award while Allen was not elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Andy Reid, Randy Moss

Andy Reid stops Super Bowl interview to compliment Randy Moss

Reid coached for the Packers during Moss' rookie season in 1998.

Justin Jefferson

Brees puts Vikings' Jefferson in 'next generation of great ones'

The future Hall of Famer, as well as Stefon Diggs, are heaping praise on the Vikings rookie.

Dalvin Cook

Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson selected to 2021 Pro Bowl

The Vikings duo will be part of a virtual event next month.

Justin Jefferson

Justin Jefferson says teams who passed on him 'are going to pay'

The Vikings first-round pick was the fifth receiver taken in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Justin Jefferson

Coller: What are realistic expectations for Justin Jefferson?

Matthew Coller writes a weekly Vikings column for BMTN, with more of his work found at Purple Insider.

Randy Moss signs with 49ers

Randy Moss signed a one-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers Monday night, according to Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network. Moss didn't play last season, and at 35 years old he is joining his fifth franchise. Along with Minnesota, Moss has played for the Patriots, Titans and Raiders.