Fri, 26 Feb 2021

Lunchbreak: Justin Jefferson Named PFF's Rookie of the Year

Minnesota Vikings
23 Jan 2021, 20:37 GMT+10

Lindsey Young

The results aren't yet in for the Pepsi Zero Sugar NFL Rookie of the Year (you can vote here), but Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson has gotten plenty of recognition in the meantime.

Jefferson was recently tabbed by Sporting News as the outlet's Rookie of the Year, and analytics site Pro Football Focus gave him the same honor.

PFF's Sam Monson tabbed Jefferson as overall Rookie of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year. Monson wrote:

When you break a franchise record that was once held by Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss, you're doing something pretty well. When you do it as a rookie and then break the overall NFL record in the same year, you're deserving of Rookie of the Year honors.

I know that [Chargers QB] Justin Herbert did some special things this season, and at times [Washington DE] Chase Young looked phenomenal, but Jefferson was on another level compared to other rookies, and his season held up compared to the best receivers in the league regardless of experience.

Jefferson finished the season second to only Davante Adams in yards per route run (2.66) despite barely [being featured] in the first two games until the Vikings realized what they were sitting on. [...] Jefferson also earned the second-best PFF receiving grade (91.0) behind Adams and recorded the third-most explosive receptions of 15 or more yards (35) among the NFL's wide receivers.

As far as Offensive Rookie of the Year, Monson acknowledged that a case could be made for Herbert but that "Jefferson was better relative to the other wide receivers in the league than Herbert was relative to other quarterbacks."

What the Oregon product did was special for a rookie passer - and it's certainly harder to be great at that position than it is at receiver - but what Jefferson did was special for any receiver, and that's why he gets the nod over Herbert.

Monson named Young Defensive Rookie of the Year. He also doled out several other awards, from Comebacker Player of the Year (Alex Smith) to Best Run Defender (Khalil Mack) and Offensive Line of the Year (Browns).

Click here to see PFF's full rundown of awards for the 2020 NFL season.

Harris & Wilson among ESPN's Top 50 NFL Free Agents

The new league year is scheduled to kick off in less than two months (March 17), and there's plenty of buzz already around the NFL about which free agents will stay with respective teams and which may end up elsewhere.

ESPN recently rolled out its "Top NFL free agents for 2021," noting that this year's free agency market will take place "amid an unprecedented environment." ESPN's Kevin Seifert wrote:

For only the second time in its history, the league is expected to lower its salary-cap number from the previous season because of lost revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After seven consecutive years of $10 million increases, teams will have less space to re-sign their own players - and those who make it to the open market will find less interest in precedent-setting new contracts.

Seifert said the early list is "weighted to reflect the approach" often seen in free agency.

Teams always will prefer younger players coming off their rookie contracts. Running backs usually are devalued, because of their shorter career peaks and the continuing shift toward the passing game. Potential pass-rushers are always sought, regardless of their past productivity, and no one cares about the age of left tackles.

One recent shift in league thinking is reflected here, too: Players coming off serious injuries aren't necessarily fated to one-year "prove it" deals. There is enough recent history to suggest that teams are better at anticipating full recoveries and will sometimes offer competitive deals. We'll update this list later this spring in anticipation of the scheduled March 17 market opening, but for now, here are the top 50 free agents for this offseason.

A pair of Vikings defenders - safety Anthony Harris and linebacker Eric Wilson - made Seifert's list at No. 36 and No. 50, respectively.

Harris, who joined Minnesota as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and became a full-time starter in 2019, totaled 104 tackles (press box stats), two tackles for loss and seven passes defensed over 16 games this past season.

The Vikings made Harris a surprise target of their franchise tag after a six-interception season in 2019. Like the rest of the Vikings defense, Harris did not match his previous year's performance and finished without a single interception. But he remains a smart and savvy defensive back with experience in a successful defense.

Wilson also has continued to elevate his game since signing with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2017. He proved his value during a 2020 season in which Minnesota's defense was decimated by injuries. Wilson was asked to play different linebacker spots throughout the year and answered the call admirably. He started 15 of 16 games played and totaled 122 tackles (press box stats), three interceptions, 3.0 sacks, eight tackles for loss, eight passes defensed, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

This will be the first time in Wilson's career that he's slated to hit the open market.

Wilson went from being a valuable backup to a 15-game starter in 2020, filling in for the injured Anthony Barr. He has enough good tape, with 122 tackles and three interceptions, to either tempt the Vikings to re-sign him as a starter or generate under-the-radar interest on the free-agent market.

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