MINNEAPOLIS - Justin Jefferson is entering his third NFL season and despite already having more than 3,000 yards and 17 touchdowns, he says the best version of himself is yet to come.
The Vikings drafted the former LSU star receiver No. 22 overall in 2020, with one of the picks Minnesota got from Buffalo in the trade with Stefon Diggs. As Mike Zimmer’s eight years with the Vikings were coming to a close at the end of last season, Jefferson came just 16 yards short of setting the NFL’s record for receiving yards in a single season.
He cares more about winning than anything.
"I’m here to do whatever I’ve got to do. Whatever numbers I end up with, that’s the numbers I end up with. This is supposed to be about having a winning season, getting to the playoffs and reaching the main goal that we’re all trying to reach," Jefferson said Wednesday.
The Vikings are entering the 2022 season with a new head coach in Kevin O’Connell, and a new head in the front office in Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Jefferson came to the Vikings after winning a national title at LSU. He doesn’t like losing, and the Vikings have missed the NFC Playoffs in his first two seasons.
"It was difficult, just coming from a winning team and then having a losing record definitely was difficult for me. I’m ready to change things around, we’re all ready to change things around and get back to that old Vikings team we used to be. Getting to the playoffs and competing for that main goal we’re trying to reach," Jefferson said.
Jefferson is due for a big pay day as early as next spring. His rookie deal is for four years and worth about $14 million, and he’s making $1.8 million in base salary this season. He opened some eyes Wednesday, saying he’s "not too fond of money."
What are his biggest motivators? Winning, and becoming the best receiver in the NFL.
"I’ll focus on the contract after the season," Jefferson said. "I’m not labeled as the best receiver at this point, so that’s my motivation is just becoming the best receiver and being the best teammate for my team. Doing stuff to provide for my team and just trying to get to that main goal."
His comments are music to O’Connell’s ears.
"His mindset is exactly where I want it to be for a still somewhat younger player and the success that he’s had, for him to understand the way to handle all that is to continue doing what he’s always done since he’s become a Minnesota Viking on the field," O’Connell said. "It was great to hear that, but ultimately he’s absolutely one of my favorites for a lot of reasons. The type of connection him and I have already built, it means a lot to me and it’s something I don’t take for granted."
Jefferson has 196 catches for 3,016 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first two seasons. The thought that he’s just scratching the surface should be terrifying to opposing defenses.
"I’m really just trying to get that goal of being the best receiver. That’s the thing I’m trying to prove this year is just being one of the best receivers in other people’s eyes. In order to do that, I’ve got to have another season like I’ve been having," Jefferson said. "My best version of myself hasn’t come yet. I feel like I still have things to improve on, I feel like my game can go up even more than what it has been. It’s really just more focus on the team at this point, we’re trying to get back to that winning record. I hate losing, I’m a competitive person so I’ll be satisfied once we win the big one."