Where would the Vikings be without Justin Jefferson? Seriously. Ponder that for a minute. And where does his value rank relative to other superstars in the NFL?
There's a legitimate case that Minnesota is experiencing the most miraculous, fairytale season in league history -- we've never seen 11 wins in one-score games in a single season and the Vikings have accomplished it without a loss.
But, wait a minute -- quarterbacks are inherently more valuable any other position on the field today. How can a receiver mean more to his team?
In almost every other case, he couldn't. But we've already established -- there's absolutely nothing normal about the story of the 2022 Vikings, which gives way to the possibility that Jefferson is not only the most valuable member of his team but also arguably the most valuable player in the entire NFL.
Expected Points Added Per Play has become one of the leading efficiency metrics for offenses, defenses, and quarterbacks. Guess where Kirk Cousins ranks in EPA/play with two games to go in the regular season? 19th! That's just behind Marcus Mariota, Ryan Tannehill, and Justin Fields. Cousins is 13th in passer rating, 19th in yards per attempt, and 12th in Adjusted Completion Percentage. Do I need to go further?
Of course Cousins has made some critical throws in critical situations, but the close-game wizardry and 12-3 overall record is not mostly on him. It's just not.
Is it on Jefferson? I'm leaning yes.
He currently leads the league in -- you ready? -- targets, receptions, receiving yards, receptions for a first down, and contested-catch wins.
His 2.67 yards-per-route run (YPRR) is incredibly, almost unfathomably high given that he's run the most routes in the league to date. It's extraordinarily challenging to maintain such a hefty YPRR figure at such a high volume. Tyreek Hill leads the league in YPRR (3.47) but has done so on 441 routes. Jefferson's run 637! That's like a difference equivalent to about four or five full games. Dude is an ironman. He's played on 95.9% of Minnesota's offensive plays this season.
For context here, Hill's at a more normal-for-a-superstar-receiver 75.9%. Stefon Diggs is at 77.1%. A.J. Brown, 84.7%.
Jefferson's been targeted on deep passes (20-plus yards down) just 15% of the time. That rate ranks 28th among qualifying wideouts. But he's second -- yes, second! -- in deep catches with 16. Only Tyreek Hill has more with 17.
Because nail-biting contests are the theme of the Vikings season, let's check how Jefferson has performed in late-game situations. Oh he's just tied for the league lead in second-half (or overtime) receptions (48) in a one-score scenario.
Clearly, from a statistical perspective, Jefferson ticks all the boxes for a genuine MVP candidate at receiver.
Then there's the anecdotal evidence.
Let's start in Week 4 and travel to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. Snug, late. In fact, tie game. Vikings first pass with under 2:00 to go, a 39-yarder to Jefferson. After three unsuccessful run plays, Greg Joseph boots the eventual winning 47-yarder.
I had a lengthy description typed about Jefferson's Hall of Fame worthy reception on 4th-and-18 in the win over the Bills. But you remember it. That snag was the epitome of high-degree-of-difficulty win in a clutch situation.
Then there's Week 16's win over the Giants. Minnesota faced with 3rd and 9 with 1:14 to go -- 16-yard Jefferson gain on a diving reception. A few plays later, Jefferson took a screen 17 yards on 3rd and 11 to set up the victory-sealing field goal.
Lowest point margin for a team 12-3 or better through 15 games since the merger— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) December 26, 2022
2022 Vikings (12-3) +5
2016 Raiders (12-3) +49
1999 Titans (12-3) +57
2021 Packers (12-3) +59
2019 Packers (12-3) +60 pic.twitter.com/j03fBH7wGg
Minnesota's probably sick of hearing about their point differential this season. It's only +5, three points better than the 7-8 Jets and seven points better than the 6-9 Raiders. But they're 12-3! They're still in contention to be the one seed in the NFC. Given how their season has gone, the Vikings will probably earn the coveted bye week and home-field advantage in the playoffs in some improbable, never-before-scene fashion at the buzzer on the final day of the regular season, thanks in large part to the Jefferson.
Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts, or Josh Allen will win the MVP award. And I get it. It'll be justified. But as I outlined late last week, Mahomes has an offensive genius head coach and brilliant YAC-oriented scheme. Hurts has the best combination of offensive-line sturdiness and offensive weaponry in football. Burrow, the deepest skill-position group in the NFL, and for Allen, Diggs running sharp routes all over the field and an elite defense.
For Jefferson, he has a quarterback throwing him the football each week who's operating at middle-of-the-pack efficiency. Despite that, with the extra game, Jefferson may very well break the single-season reception and receiving-yard records. Ridiculous.
He's won at a high rate in every aspect of playing the position, been clutch all season on a super-successful team, and barely left the field.
Jefferson deserves votes -- yes, multiple -- for league MVP.
Without him, I wholeheartedly believe the Vikings would currently be hovering around .500, fighting for their playoff lives. That's a sentence typically reserved for MVP-candidate quarterbacks on division leaders in December, but it's one that absolutely applies to Jefferson this season.