NFL Analysis


6 min read

Justin Jefferson Isn't Just NFL's Best WR — He Could Be An All-Time Great

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) celebrates his first down against the Los Angeles Chargers in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Jefferson’s 5,899 receiving yards are the most of a player through the first four years of his career.

It should not be surprising that Jefferson signed a market-setting extension with the Minnesota Vikings on Monday. Jefferson’s four-year, $140 million contract resets the top of the receiver market at $35 million per year.

That $35 million average is a very real number that doesn’t use a fluffed-up final season to inflate the deal, similar to previous market-setters like DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, and Tyreek Hill had in their deals. 

The full details, which include $110 million in total guarantees, $50.25 million in first-year cash, and $106 million in three-year cash flow, per Over The Cap, also set the market for non-quarterback contracts by topping Nick Bosa in several metrics.

Source: Over The Cap

With Jefferson setting so many new marks for non-quarterback contracts, it’s fair to wonder if he’s worth it. The short answer is yes. Thanks for stopping by!

Jefferson has stood out nearly since he first stepped on an NFL field. Jefferson had 1,400 receiving yards as a rookie and was voted second-team All-Pro. It’s only gotten better from there.

Last season, Jefferson battled some injuries and only played in 10 games. That brought down his raw stats, but when he was healthy, he was a difference-maker.

Jefferson ranked fourth in yards per route run in 2023. Even if you take out the games he played with Kirk Cousins, he ranked fourth. He had higher yards per route run (3.09) with an assignment that was not made easier by the quarterbacks who filled in for Cousins.

The idea behind the contract and feeling comfortable with the money given out is that Jefferson is essentially quarterback-proof. Jefferson does so much; he makes life easier on quarterbacks, and his presence opens up so much for others in the receiving corps.

The Vikings will be banking on this with rookie J.J. McCarthy set to take over for Cousins.

Can't Cover Him

With the influx of talent in the past few seasons, the NFL has never had more wide receiver depth than right now. The number of players who can provide quality play is also at an all-time high.

Within that group are players with one excellent skill that can be used as a trump card and others who are more well-rounded. Jefferson is both.

Few receivers can truly dominate man coverage. During the past four years, Jefferson has led all receivers in yards per route run against man coverage, running more than a quarter of his routes against man. That rate would probably be higher if more defenses could trust their corners against Jefferson 1-on-1 in man.

There’s really no coverage that slows Jefferson down. His lowest yards per route run comes against Cover-2, which, even with the increase of two-high shells, is not a coverage defense run all that often. 

Jefferson can win from any alignment and any role. He’s been the Vikings’ short possession receiver and one of the most explosive receivers we’ve seen during the past two decades.

Among receivers who have debuted since 2000, Jefferson has the most receptions of 20 or more yards during his first four years (104). He has 13 more than CeeDee Lamb in second place, and he has 17 more than Michael Thomas in third place.

Jefferson also has a rate of explosive receptions that mesh with some of the big-play receivers on this list.

Since Jefferson's debut, those 104 receptions of 20 or more yards also pace all receivers, with Lamb and Hill (75) trailing.

Jefferson can be so explosive because of his elite combination of body control, speed, and suddenness. He can run past a defender or run through them. He can be too quick off the line to press, which puts a defender at a disadvantage at the snap. Give him any space, and he’s nearly impossible to catch wherever his route goes. 

Kevin O’Connell and Minnesota's offense do a great job creating releases for Jefferson, allowing him to immediately put a cornerback in hell.

All-Around Star

There’s really no good way to defend Jefferson. He might be the receiver who best uses the entire field. Take a look at how Jefferson has been targeted during the past four seasons against the other top receivers in the league during that span.

His biggest value might be on those in-breaking routes at the intermediate level of the field. On in-breakers since 2020, Jefferson has a league-leading 835 yards (A.J. Brown is second at 710) and 15 receptions of 20 or more yards (Brown and Brandon Aiyuk tied for second at 13).

He’s so good at finding and manipulating space, allowing him to find holes in the most valuable part of the field. Watch him set up a touchdown in late 2022 by holding his vertical stem long enough to hold a safety and not allow the defender to break on the route until it was too late.

Where Does That Place Jefferson?

Jefferson is already nearing all-time status with the pace he’s been on. We mentioned he’s first in receiving yards through his first four seasons. Well, if he did not gain a yard in 2024, he’d be 10th in receiving yards through five seasons.

He only needs 886 yards this coming season to pass Tory Holt for the top mark through Year 5 (6,784).

He’s already 41st in receiving yards through Year 6 and needs 2,476 yards in the next two seasons to eclipse the 8,375-yard mark set by Randy Moss. Moss and Holt are the only two receivers to top 8,000 receiving yards through six years. Pending catastrophe, Jefferson feels like a lock to be third.

This isn’t likely to be Jefferson's peak, either. As you might expect, with some more experience, there are players who took off in production in their second four years.

The list of the most receiving yards from Years 5-8 differs slightly from the players who just started off hot. If Jefferson just repeated his 5.899 yards from his first four years, he’d only be 21st on the list from Years 5-8.

We should not expect Jefferson to repeat the first four years. Minnesota isn’t expecting that either with this contract. 

The Vikings gladly paid at the top of the non-quarterback market to lock in the best wide receiver in the NFL. But they didn’t sign the current best player at his position.

They have what could be an all-time great, and this is still just the beginning.