Better Rookie: Justin Jefferson or Kevin Stefanski?

Tonight, Justin Jefferson will go to sleep as a pro-bowler and piece of Minnesota Vikings history. In just 14 games, Jefferson surpassed Randy Moss’ team record for catches by a rookie, after recording his 70th of the season on Sunday.

Moss racked up 69 catches during Minnesota’s unforgettable 1998 season, where he helped lead the Vikings to a 15-1 record and an appearance in the NFC Championship Game. Unfortunately for Jefferson, a playoff appearance (let alone an NFC Championship) is nearly an impossible ask.

2020 has brought challenges to everyone, but for Jefferson, his rookie season has been one to remember. One that’s cultivated gleaming numbers stamped by his vibrant and infectious personality.

This morning, ex-Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski woke up with a triumphant smile and an emphatic sense of validation. The Cleveland Browns are 10-4 and Baker Mayfield is becoming everything the Browns hoped he’d be as their franchise QB.

Last night, Mayfield continued his dominant second half of the season by breaking the Browns’ record for completion percentage in a game (84.3%). Stefanski has played an deep-seated role in Mayfield’s growth and a revamped franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in 18 years.

Both of these guys have had profound jolt on their respective teams but which one has had the more impressive rookie season?

Stefanski’s Stamp

Look, anytime you take on a losing franchise like the Browns, New York Jets or Detroit Lions, you’re going to feel the stigma. Winning games in the NFL is difficult enough, but you Parlay that with a rookie head coach who’s taking over a franchise that has an engrained losing mentality…. and it can be a recipe for utter disaster.

Stefanski was brought in not only to reconstruct the Browns, but to elevate the play of Baker Mayfield. Stefanski has accomplished both tasks and much more.

The Browns haven’t won double digit games since 2007. They won their 10th last night. They haven’t won 11 games since 1994, and face the 1-13 New York Jets next week. Cleveland also hasn’t lost back to back games all year.

Cleveland offense by the numbers

According to Pro-Football-Reference, the Cleveland Browns are averaging 26 points per game (13th in NFL) along with 152 rushing yards per game, (3rd in NFL) and 375 total yards per game (10th in NFL). Baker Mayfield has thrown for 3,082 yards with 25 TD’s to 8 INTS.

Last year, Mayfield threw 22 TD’s and 21 INT’s under Freddie Kitchens. His last three games have been impressive, throwing for 974 yards, 8 touchdowns and just one interception.

Unless something funky happens these last three games, the 2020 NFL Coach of the Year award should belong to Kevin Stefanski.

JJ’s impact

How can I not start off this section without kindly reminding you that Justin Jefferson was the fifth WR taken in the 2020 NFL draft. He currently has 73 receptions (Vikings Rookie record) tallying 1,182 yards. Jefferson sits behind only Randy Moss in rookie receiving yards and touchdowns, with 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns in 1998.

In 2020, JJ ranks 1st amongst rookies in receptions, receiving yards and second in receiving TD’s. Overall, he ranks 8th in the NFL in receiving yards and 8th in TD catches. He’s a rookie pro bowler. What else do you need to know?

At just 21 years old, JJ runs routes like he’s in his 10th year and carry’s a confidence that’s palpable. The stats are eye-opening, but Jefferson’s moxie on and off the field has reenergized this franchise and lit up a locker room in need of a little more fun.

I mean… the Browns are a playoff team.

Both Stefanski and Jefferson have had tremendous first years. However, one is most likely going to the playoffs and the other is most likely not. Because the Cleveland Browns are a playoff team and the Minnesota Vikings are not, I’m leaning towards Kevin.

It’s one thing to take over a franchise after Freddie Kitchens practically ran it into the ground. It’s another to flip one of the most incompetant organizations in all of sports while restoring confidence in a franchise QB many thought was a bust.

Stephen Strom | Minnesota Sports Fan

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