Justin Jefferson, face of Vikings: Star receiver discusses Hall of Fame goal, future contract, ‘crazy 2 years’

Eagan, Minn. – The iciest thing about Minnesota on the first day of August might be the chain hanging from Justin Jefferson’s neck. As the third-year wide receiver strolled onto the grass at the TCO Performance Center Monday, joining his Vikings teammates for a training camp walkthrough, shades masked his eyes, his diamonds hair bowed with ears attached to, and a glittering necklace. Decorate your number. 18, a jersey shared by dozens of decals and hundreds of fans across the club’s billion-dollar campus.

Of course he was playing it cool. He had earned.

“Oh man,” says running back Alexander Mattison. “I mean, he had confidence before. But now even more.”

The Vikings don’t always register on the national radar. Maybe because they are Midwestern, not coastal. Perhaps because the Packers, their main rivals, have enjoyed back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Probably because they are one of 12 teams without a Super Bowl win. Probably all of the above.

Jefferson, all of 23 years old, is taking care of her.

Since the Vikings drafted him 22nd overall in 2020 out of LSU, the “Jets” have blazed the hottest trail of any wideout in team history. After debuting with 1,400 yards — a total matched only once by Packers-to-Raiders star DeVante Adams — Jefferson reached 1,616 in 2021, surpassing the career mark of his outspoken Vikings predecessor, Stefon Diggs. Made the mark perfect. In an increasingly pass-happy league, he racked up both volume and big plays. Along with Dalvin Cook, he forms one of the most explosive skill groups in the entire league.

He’s also the NFL equivalent of a pop star. In the age of the Internet, Instagram clips are as liable to invite a child’s likes as “Monday Night Football.” It should come as no surprise that Jefferson, practically a child himself, lists his signature celebration, the Girdy Dance, among his career achievements. When you score a lot, you celebrate a lot, and Jefferson’s viral moves made him the first NFL player to be featured as a character on “Fortnite.” Fantasy players across the country crave his weekly output.

Is it possible that his crossover appeal is clearly elevating the Minnesota market, a la Tom Brady with the Buccaneers?

“Oh yeah,” he replies. “I mean, out of the two years I had, just setting records and being on top (of the lists) with Randy Moss and other guys who broke records in the league, and then of course Gerdy coming up and setting the trend. It’s been a crazy couple of years being a big part of

Watch Cody Benjamin’s full interview with Justin Jefferson from Vikings camp here:

Jefferson is aware of his influence. And if, somehow, his companions are not, they learn quickly.

At one point on Monday, during an afternoon bowl practice, he galloped toward his fellow catchers with an announcement: “I’m already in his head! I’m already in his head!” He was referring to rookie cornerback Andrew Booth Jr., who mistimed coverage on a deep ball after defending Jefferson’s speed a few plays earlier. There’s the fast, and then there’s the explosive. Compared to entering the draft (202) now, Lennar (195 pounds), Jefferson is both, always breaking the line. He vows to outrun anyone, anywhere. And that’s regardless of whether he’s indulging in his favorite pre-run snack (Twix) or pre-game meal (pasta).

“It doesn’t matter if I think they’re faster than me or not,” he says. “I’ve always had confidence in myself. That’s just me. I’m a competitor. If we’re playing cards, or we’re racing, or we’re playing football, I’m always competitive.”

KJ Osborne, who is slated to start at receiver alongside Jefferson and longtime veteran Adam Thielen, thinks he can outplay the superstar but is happy to respectfully concede that argument.

“I get to play with two of the best players in the game,” Osborne says. “Adam, looking at the defense, he’s going into Year 10, he knows a lot. And JJ and his athleticism … I’d say me and JJ (win the race). JJ Gon’ said it himself. This friend got something. Long stairs.”

Jefferson calls his route running his best asset — “just being able to create space” — and checks all the specific boxes in reference to his steps to success: film study, opponent tendencies and preferences. To know But it’s hard not to keep coming back to trust. When it’s time to line up, eye-to-eye, with the cornerback on Sunday, all he channels is stiffness.

“I’ve always had this mindset that no one can protect me,” Jefferson smiled.

Anna Elliott is as close as NFL receivers need to be, but this particular trait, at this particular position, has always felt especially noteworthy in Minnesota. Maybe, again, it’s the Midwest reputation, the “Minnesota Nice” dysfunction that surrounds a team that’s never good enough to win it all but never bad enough to blow it. go Jefferson’s quarterback, Kirk Cousins, is an embodiment of tenacity, despite the unspectacular, Vikings’ flux. And so it’s both amusing and fitting when Jefferson is asked to describe his QB in one word and, after a pregnant pause and a laugh, offers this: “Different.”

This wide receiver isn’t afraid to be himself, to embrace said ego. She chatters from the sidelines as the self-styled face of the team. He dances his way to the end zone. He wears shiny jewelry to practice. But for now, at least, Jefferson stands out as well. way to He exudes such confidence in himself: casually, and without pretension. As he walks in that direction, after a two-hour run under all the 85-degree Minnesota rays to get an interview he wishes it was winter, he does so with an easy smile on his face. does. He’s lifting zero weight, free of any pressure to clear the bar he’s set so high.

“My family taught me to be humble, to accept what I have, but not to take it for granted,” Jefferson says. “I try to have as much fun as I can. I try not to take the game too seriously, you know? I just like to come here, relax, do what I have to do, have fun. Day At the end of the day, I’d rather do this than do something else I don’t like doing.”

So on the one hand we have Jefferson as one of the most productive young receivers the NFL has ever seen, justified in any major gesture of self-importance in a game that makes his position so good. Pays in kind. (After a lucrative offseason for receivers, he knows he could be the game’s highest-paid a year from now: “I mean, I hope so. Right now, I’m on most of the season.” Focusing, just trying to get back to that winning record, being in the playoffs, achieving that big goal, getting to the Super Bowl and winning it. But of course I’m one of the highest paid. (Would like to be one.) On the other hand, we have a lesser performance of Jefferson. His own stage rests primarily on the blessings of God-given gifts. One whose default attitude is jubilance, which Delights to teach a reporter how to do a gurdy, and encourages him even when he fails to dance as easily as a millionaire athlete.

Whatever Jefferson’s exact formula is, it’s working. Because any colleague who will talk about it appreciates it. (Cousins ​​included, of course, because nothing blends different personalities like a 1,400-yard and 10-touchdown connection.) Those physical gifts are unteachable. And deep down, Jefferson knows — really, really knows — he can be the best if he keeps growing.

“He went back in the shed (this year), grabbed some more tools, and he’s ready to go,” says Mattison, who predicts more action for Jefferson under new coach Kevin O’Connell. . “I think with all the natural things he has, with his work, the sky’s the limit for him. But for him, he doesn’t think so. And that’s why it’s scary. He doesn’t believe it. “He’s had enough. He wants more. And that hunger and love for the game will fuel a Hall of Fame career.”

Jefferson has no problem admitting that he has his sights set on a statue of Canton, even two years out of college.

“Everybody wants to be there at the end of that Super Bowl game, the confetti coming down, the ring on the finger,” he says, “but at the end of your career, being a Hall of Famer, that’s what I strive for. I do. I want to be the best at my position, and I want to be recognized for that.”

He just might pick up all of Minnesota in the process. And maybe, if the stars align and the ball keeps coming his way, outfitting some of his fellow Vikings with some ridiculously expensive jewelry of their own.