×

Struggling Vikings need rookie WR Jefferson to develop fast

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Justin Jefferson is not used to losing, coming from college powerhouse LSU.

His first two professional games with the Minnesota Vikings have been about as defeating as a player could experience in the sport.

After going 34-7 in three years with the Tigers, who won the national championship in 2019, Jefferson has found himself not only on the beginning of the learning curve for an NFL offense but dealing with the unfamiliar feeling of inferiority on the field.

The Vikings still have plenty of their schedule left to play, but they’ve been soundly beaten by Green Bay and Indianapolis over the first two weeks of this strange pandemic season.

“We’ve just got to bounce back and find that energy that this organization has been having for the last couple years,” said Jefferson, the 22nd overall selection in the draft.

LSU never had a losing streak while the dynamic wide receiver was with the program. Neither did Destrehan High School, where he went in suburban New Orleans. Now a Vikings team that has not posted a losing record since coach Mike Zimmer’s debut season in 2014 has dug a deep hole with a pair of troubling performances on both sides of the ball.

The biggest issue for the offense, which ranks last in the league in time of possession, is identifying another pass-catcher or two who can alleviate the attention and burden on wide receiver Adam Thielen. That’s where Jefferson, who was conveniently acquired with the pick the Vikings obtained in the trade that sent dissatisfied wide receiver Stefon Diggs to Buffalo, comes in.

Jefferson has been targeted six times for five receptions, 70 yards and three first downs, one sign that the Vikings — from offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak to wide receivers coach Andrew Janocko to quarterback Kirk Cousins — have been guiding him both gradually and intentionally.

“I think it’s the right thing to do with him. I think you’re going to see more and more of him,” Kubiak said, adding: “Much like Adam, you want to get touches for those type of football players, and with the amount of plays we’ve been running, touches are hard to come by.”

The struggles of the Vikings on offense have been more pronounced considering Diggs has an NFL-high 239 receiving yards and the Bills are unbeaten. The Vikings, though, have no choice but to be patient with Jefferson’s progress as they try to keep the season from spiraling away.

“It’s just up to the other receivers to go out there and make those big plays and to get open,” said Jefferson, who has taken the third-most snaps in his position group behind Thielen and Bisi Johnson.

Cousins downplayed this week the significance of the lost practice time to the pandemic, but the first two games have appeared to reveal a lack of connection and trust between the ninth-year veteran and his wide receivers not named Thielen. As Kubiak noted on Thursday, though, Jefferson has been on the field for a grand total of two NFL games.

Newsletter

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
   

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today