Now in his third year in the league, Justin Jefferson is no longer the new kid on the block for the Minnesota Vikings. The two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver is now expected to step into more of a leadership role for his team as he looks to help the Vikings emerge as a real threat in the NFC North, and perhaps even beyond.
For his part, Jefferson himself understands what's expected from him this season. JJ is the type who wears his heart on his sleeve, and at times, this somewhat hinders him from becoming a true leader for the squad. The 23-year-old is well aware of this fact, and this is exactly what he's discussed with Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell (via Trevor Squire of heavy.com)
“Going into my third year, playing the way I’ve been playing, [O’Connell] definitely wanted me to take on that leadership role. Not getting frustrated, not having those temper tantrums on the sideline when I’m not getting my way, that all plays a part,” Jefferson said in a postgame press conference. “If Adam and K.J. is eating, I love it. If we win, I love it. The doesn’t really matter about the stats that I get, the touchdowns I get, as long as we winning, our whole team is playing together.”
After a strong opening week performance against the Green Bay Packers, Jefferson was held back by opposing defenses in Weeks 2 and 3. He faced constant double teams, and there's no denying that frustration was starting to boil over. However, Jefferson knows that he needed to keep his emotions in check:
“Just because I’m not being an emotional player,” Jefferson said. “I’m not being a virus to the team. Just being frustrated. I’m going to be frustrated, but I’m going to keep that to myself. At the end of the day, if somebody’s double-teaming me, I can’t really do too much about that. That just shows you how much effect I have on the defensive side, just being a key player, just having them know where I’m at at all times. I mean, if I’m getting doubled, K.J. and Adam is getting one-on-one. We feel confident in those type of matchups getting the ball to them and making a play.”
After keeping his head down, Jefferson bounced back in a major way in Week 4 against the New Orleans Saints. He caught 10-of-13 targets for 147 yards. More importantly, he helped lead his team to another win — Minnesota's third victory in their first four games.
After the Saints win, O'Connell had nothing but high praise for his star WR:
“Yeah, I spent a lot of time with J.J. over the last couple weeks, just continuing to tell him how much I appreciate the leadership that he’s shown by not allowing that frustration to affect not only his play but our offense,” O’Connell said.
“Huge performance. Gave him a game ball today. He earned that game ball today. In my opinion, he earned it in the preparation leading up to this over these last couple weeks.”
We all know how special Justin Jefferson is as a player. However, much more is expected from him this season, particularly with the leadership role he's expected to fill for the Vikings.