Based exclusively on 2020 performance, Pro Football Focuscalculated Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson as a better player than Stefon Diggs, DeAndre Hopkins, and Tyreek Hill. This is noteworthy as Jefferson was a first-year player in 2020 while Diggs, Hopkins, Hill have 19 years of playing experience between them.
This should be heavily caveated as PFF is only one metric in adjudicating player performance. Other metrics like Football Outsiders or basic catches-yards-touchdowns may be more interpretive than PFF’s scoring system.
But for the pandemic’s season purposes, this is PFF’s take on Jefferson arrival to the NFL:
“The Vikings struck gold with Justin Jefferson: He wasn’t just the best rookie receiver in 2020, but he also set rookie records and was one of the best first-year receivers in NFL history. Making that all the more improbable is that Jefferson was the fifth receiver off the board in the draft, and the Vikings barely played him during the first two games before seemingly stumbling upon what they had. Jefferson finished the year trailing only Davante Adams in yards per route run (2.66) and did as much damage as he did despite ranking just 15th in targets.”
High praise for the 21-year old. Among all NFL players, Jefferson is considered by PFF as the 15th-best football player leaguewide. And this is particularly notable, as PFF mentions above, because four wideouts in the 2020 NFL Draft were considered hotter commodities than Jefferson (Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Jalen Reagor).
For curious minds on this PFF Top 101, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Justin Herbert, checked in at No. 91 – 76 spots lower than Jefferson who finished second in OROY voting.
PFF by the Numbers
For further context, PFF in 2020 perceived Jefferson as a better football player than Joey Bosa, Quentin Nelson, Dalvin Cook, Myles Garrett, and Jalen Ramsey, to name a few. All of those men are considered near the upper-tier of their position in terms of stardom.
Jefferson pulled down 1,400 receiving yards with seven touchdowns to complement the mark. His touchdowns were not near the top of the industry, but the yards assuredly ranked in the Top 3. Only two other wide receivers tabulated more receiving yards – Stefon Diggs and Davante Adams. And not-so-coincidentally, Adams was the only wideout to grade better at the wide receiver position than Jefferson.
Diggs had a more productive season than Jefferson, to be sure. But this was caused by an intense amount of targets within the Buffalo Bills offense. Diggs was targeted 166 times – 41 more targets than Jefferson. Via per-target numbers, Jefferson tops Diggs in most metrics.
Thielen Checks in at #35
Jefferson stole the headlines and fanfare [rightfully so], but Adam Thielen was tremendous in 2020, too. He doubled Jefferson’s touchdown output (14 for Thielen) and even missed a game due to the coronavirus.
Thielen is 30 years older, nine years Jefferson’s senior. He maintains two critical facets to his game that will enable him to play well into his 30s – hands and route-running. Think of him as Tom Bray’s dream wideout. Those skills are the crucial attributes of Thielen’s game that propelled him to rank No. 35 of PPF’s 2020 Top 101.
Thielen did not crack 1,000 receiving yards in 2020, although he probably would have eclipsed the total had he not missed the Week 12 contest versus the Carolina Panthers – an ugly contest in which Minnesota eked out a win.
It was the second consecutive season that Thielen failed to cross the 1,000-yard mark after a herculean 2018 campaign, Cousins’ first year with the Vikings.
Tip of the Iceberg for Jefferson
Jefferson topping the titans of sport like Diggs, Hopkins, and Hill for 2020 is obviously commendable, but replicating the feat in 2021 will not be breezy. Sophomore slumps are real. Ask Baker Mayfield about the reality of one.
But Jefferson’s instant stardom is encouraging because he produced prime-years production at age 21. National dialogue centers on “who is better – Diggs or Jefferson,” yet the comparison should judge Diggs’ rookie year against that of of Jefferson’s. The Vikings should feel extraordinarily lucky if Jefferson ever hit 1,400 yards in a season, let alone in Year One. He outplayed Diggs in his first year, at least by PFF’s metrics.
The fairest indicator on which player – Diggs or Jefferson – is better throughout their respective career should be evaluated when both are retired. Or, for instance, a breakdown of Diggs from the 2020 season and Jefferson from his future 2025 campaign would be a more static analysis – the sixth year of each player’s career.