Going into week 17, Justin Jefferson needed 47 yards to break Randy Moss’ Vikings rookie record and 111 yards to surpass Anquan Boldin’s NFL rookie record for receiving yards. He got both, with 133 yards against the Lions, and did it in style with gains of 38 and 15, respectively, on the two plays. Jefferson finished the season with a ridiculous stat line for a rookie: 88 receptions for 1400 yards and 7 TDs.
I broke down his two plays on the Climbing the Pocket Network’s YouTube Channel in the video below. This article is a companion piece to that video.
Breaking Moss’ Record
On the first play, the Vikings are running play action, and only have a two man route concept. It’s essentially a Y-Cross concept, with Adam Thielen running a vertical route and Justin Jefferson running a deep cross.
With this concept, the Vikings hope to pull the LBs up towards the line of scrimmage and that Adam Thielen’s deep route pushes the CB and S, who are in Cover 3, deep to leave a void in the middle of the field for Jefferson, and that’s exactly what happens.
Normally, this is a nice 15 yard gain as the deep safety drives on the ball and makes the tackle after the receiver catches it. However, part of what makes Jefferson special is his ability to make people miss after the catch. The safety tries to wrap him up, but Jefferson leans forward and is able to reduce the target available for the player to make the tackle, and he slides off his back.
Even after making that player miss, he turned up field and kept working, crossing up another DB before finally getting tackled for a 38 yard gain.
While Jefferson didn’t need to do a lot of work to get open on this play, it still shows a part of the reason why he’s been so successful. He was able to turn a nice gain into a much bigger one with his after the catch ability.
Breaking Boldin’s Record
On this play, the Lions have no deep middle of the field player and are sending an all out, zero blitz. The Vikings have three players running routes, and Jefferson and Beebe are running an Ohio concept at the bottom. Beebe runs a vertical route, and Jefferson is running a deep out. The idea is that Beebe and Jefferson push the coverage vertically, and then Jefferson breaks open to the outside.
The key to this play is Jefferson’s ability to convince the corner that he is running a vertical route. Jefferson does this very well, and you can see that at the point where Jefferson makes his break, the corner’s hips are flipped vertically and his momentum is pushing him up the field. He was aided by the fact that the corner had to guard against the deep routes first, because he had no help over the top due to the blitz. The Vikings’ protection also did a great job of holding up against a heavy blitz.
Meanwhile, Jefferson is breaking to the outside. His ability to remain flat while breaking on out routes is another thing that makes him special. He’s able to flatten the turn to where he only drifts about three yards upfield, which is difficult to do on a speed turn, where you are running full speed before breaking.
After making that nice break, Jefferson is able to adjust to a ball that’s a little bit in front of him, make an off-balance catch and make sure he gets two feet in bounds while maintaining control of the ball through going to the ground. This was a play that was worthy of breaking a record.