Could Justin Jefferson top 2,000 yards in 2023?
There’s been a lot of talk this offseason about the 2,000 yard mark. While this is a conversation that usually centers around running backs, this season the focus has been on wide receivers. Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill has gone on record stating that the famed milestone is his goal for this season. But there’s another receiver who could be poised to hit that number this season: Justin Jefferson.
2,000 yards in a single season is a mark that no wide receiver has ever achieved. Contrast that with the number being reached eight times by running backs. Few receivers have even come close, with only former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson and Rams standout receiver Cooper Kupp topping 1,900 yards. Even 1,800 yards is a feat few receivers have matched, with only six receivers all-time reaching the mark – including the Vikings young phenom Jefferson.
While Hill has stated his goal is to achieve the mark this season, is this the year that Jefferson could reach the mark and become JJ2K?
What’s working in Justin Jefferson’s favor for 2000 yards?
There are a number of factors that work favorably towards Justin Jefferson becoming the first wide receiver to hit the 2,000 yard mark. The first, and most obvious, factor is the NFL’s move to a 17-game season. The extra game gives Jefferson an advantage the likes of Megatron, Jerry Rice, and other all-time greats never had. That said, the NFL has had a 17-game schedule for a couple of years now, and no receiver has achieved the feat.
The second thing working in Jefferson’s favor is opportunity. Jefferson is one of the most explosive and dynamic playmakers in the NFL, and the Vikings’ offense allows him to do what he does best. Jefferson is by far the team’s top option, and that’s only going to be more apparent in 2023 with the departures of Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook.
It’s not unreasonable to think that the already high-octane Vikings offense will be even more reliant on the passing game now that Dalvin Cook is no longer in purple and gold. Alexander Mattison is a capable back, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be trusted with – and can handle – the same workload that Cook was given. That could lead to an increase in passing plays for the Vikings in 2023 and in turn more opportunity for Jefferson.
The Vikings did draft former Pittsburgh and USC wide receiver Jordan Addison in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft. Addison is likely to become a trusted target in the Vikings’ offense, but it’s tough for rookie wide receivers not named Randy Moss to come in and dominate right away. That bodes well for an increase in targets for Jefferson, which he’s going to need if he is to ultimately reach the pinnacle and get that 2,000-yard mark. But it won’t be easy, and may not be achievable at all.
What’s working against Jefferson in his quest?
Simply put, if Jefferson is going to reach 2,000 yards on the season in 2023, he’s going to have to see an increase in volume. While there’s a significant number of targets vacated from last season, it’s tough to see Jefferson’s workload increasing enough to make 2000 yards possible.
Jefferson was the most targeted receiver in the NFL last season, with 184 targets, four more than Davante Adams. The Vikings offense as a whole passed the ball at the third-highest clip in the league last year, throwing on 62.5% of their plays from scrimmage. The top team in the league last season, Tampa Bay, threw the ball on 66.1% of their plays.
Additionally, the Vikings’ offense ranked 13th in the league last season in plays per game. If they would have had four more plays per game – giving them 67 plays per game, the top mark in the league held, again, by Tampa Bay – that would have equated to another 112 yards for Jefferson, given his per-game averages, putting him at 1921 yards on the season, falling just 79 yards shy of the fabled 2000 yard mark.
None of that is taking Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson into account, either. The Vikings traded for the former Detroit Lions star last season, immediately putting him to work in their electric offense. In 10 games with the Vikings in 2022, Hockenson was targeted 86 times and came away with 60 receptions. With a full season in the offense, those numbers are likely to increase substantially. If that’s the case, it may be impossible for Jefferson to get any more yards than he had in 2022.
Looking beyond the passing game, another factor working against Jefferson may be the running game. While Mattison may not get the workload that Cook received last season, he may not have to in order to cut into Jefferson’s targets and yardage. Cook was a stellar running back for the Vikings for many years, but his 2022 numbers show a running back in decline. Cook had a negative Rushing Yards over Expectation in 2022, and according to Football Outsiders, Cook only had a 48% success rate, ranking 33 out of 42 qualifying backs.
If Mattison can improve upon those numbers, he won’t need to carry the rock as much as Cook did to impact Jefferson. An improved running game in 2023 could be the nail in the coffin for Jefferson’s hopes at 2,000 yards
Will Justin Jefferson get 2,000 yards in 2023?
Ultimately, it’s tough to see a path toward 2,000 yards for Jefferson, as much as the talent and offense may suggest otherwise. The already pass-heavy Vikings offense would have to drastically increase its output to give Jefferson a chance. Jefferson would have to be targeted at an extremely high rate which may not be feasible, especially with the other weapons present in the Vikings’ offense.
If any receiver was going to top 2,000 yards in 2023, Jefferson would be high on the list. But too many factors are working against him to think it a reasonable possibility. That said, never say never!