Justin Jefferson’s 2022 Projections Cannot Keep Up with His Hype… or Reality

Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn - USA TODAY Sports

The moment Philadelphia passed on Justin Jefferson in the 2019 NFL Draft, Rick Spielman knew he got a good one. In a now famous video, then Minnesota Vikings general manager celebrated with then head coach Mike Zimmer over zoom, as they barked at the draft room operator to call in the pick.

But neither of those two guys, nor anyone else, could have predicted what Jefferson would do in his first two seasons as a professional wide receiver. His 3,016 total receiving yards through his sophomore season is a league record and he’s been nipping at the heels of single-season franchise records set by Randy Moss. Most of which, we thought would never be touched.

JJ’s hype is gaining traction across league circles, too. Not even flyover country can hold Justin Jefferson back. He’s a consensus top-10 fantasy football draft pick, heading into FF draft week. His peers showered respect on Justin’s name over the weekend, too, ranking him 17th-best player in the league.

ESPN Panel Loves Justin Jefferson

But ESPN’s football writers might be driving the JJ hype bus. In an ESPN article that dropped on Monday morning, a panel of 50 experts predicted that Justin Jefferson will finish the 2022 season as 7th-best player in the entire NFL. Only Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Donald, Aaron Rodgers, Cooper Kupp, Josh Allen and TJ Watt ranked higher.

7. Justin Jefferson : What can Jefferson do for an encore after leading the NFL in combined receiving yards (3,016) over the past two seasons? The Vikings will endeavor to show us after hiring Kevin O’Connell as coach. O’Connell and his staff got Rams receiver Cooper Kupp in position for a record-breaking season in 2021. Jefferson figures to line up in a wider variety of spots on the field and get the ball through an increased diversity of route types in the new scheme. – Kevin Seifert (ESPN)

Lofty Praise, Underwhelming Expectations…

This is high praise for Jefferson, but it’s not shocking. What did catch my eye, however, was ESPN’s 2022 projections for JJ (98 REC, 1,367 YDS, 8 TD). That slash line feels… underwhelming. It’s not just ESPN’s projections that feel light, though. SI’s Sportsbook and DraftKings both plant his over/under receiving total at just 1,350.5 yards and both set TD totals under 10, as well.

Each year Justin Jefferson has played, his statistics have improved. He went for 88 receptions, 1,400 yards and 7 touchdowns as a rookie in 2020. Then went for 108 receptions, 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2021.

That makes me wonder… In a new and more WR friendly Minnesota Vikings offense this season, one that’s completely built around him, ESPN expects Jefferson’s numbers to fall below what he achieved in each of his first two seasons. Yet, their experts still vaulted him up their player rankings, from #32 to #7.

So, how high up this list does Justin Jefferson climb if he exceeds their (rather unlofty) projections? Do you want my personal projection? We’re about to find out.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan