Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson is a top contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year after posting 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns on 88 catches. That would only start to make up for the fact four wideouts were selected ahead of him in last year's draft: Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Jalen Reagor.
Speaking to NFL Network's Steve Wyche and Jim Trotter on the Huddle & Flow podcast, Jefferson said watching teams pick other receivers over him motivated him all season:
"I kept a chip on my shoulder, if you want to say that. I just felt like I was one of the top receivers, especially off of the performance that I did with the national championship, having over 1,500 yards and having 18 touchdowns. So being the fifth receiver picked up, I felt like that was disrespectful on their part. I just wanted to prove everybody wrong.
"All of the doubts about me not being able to play outside, me not being a fast receiver, me not being able to go deep. So this past season, I worked on all of those things. I just tried to clean up my game a little bit more and be that versatile receiver."
Only two wideouts had more receiving yards than Jefferson: Buffalo Bills first-team All-Pro Stefon Diggs (1,535 yards) and Arizona Cardinals second-team All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins (1,407 yards).
Ruggs, who the Las Vegas Raiders made the first receiver selected in the 2020 draft at No. 12 overall, finished his rookie year with 452 yards and two scores.
Jeudy (No. 15 to the Denver Broncos), Lamb (No. 17 to the Dallas Cowboys) and Reagor (No. 21 to the Philadelphia Eagles) each went ahead of Jefferson, as well. The San Francisco 49ers selected Brandon Aiyuk three picks later to cap the first-round receiver class at six.
Jefferson was the only one of those six players invited to the Pro Bowl after their rookie years.
Yet the Vikings star said he wasn't exactly measuring himself against his fellow first-rounders. Instead, he compared himself to the top receivers in the game overall.
After his first season in the league, Jefferson has already added his name to that list. The LSU product said he knew that would be the case after just three games in the NFL.
"After my first start, after Week 3. Having 175 yards, just being a big performer of the game, and then just dancing into the end zone, that excitement, I just knew I was capable of being a problem in the league," Jefferson said "Especially going against Malcolm Butler. Malcolm Butler is one of the top corners in the league. So having a performance like that on him definitely opened my eyes a little bit and gave me a little bit more confidence."
Percy Harvin captured Offensive Rookie of the Year honors as a Vikings wideout in 2009, but Jefferson would be the first receiver to win the award since Keenan Allen in 2013, though the Associated Press named Odell Beckham Jr. its Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2014.
Either way, Jefferson is being mentioned among the best wideouts in football right now. It's exactly where he expected to be.