As Year 3 in the NFL closes in, Minnesota Vikings WR Justin Jefferson’s ascending, and he’s truly becoming one of the next greats of the game. For managers who are fortunate to roster him in dynasty fantasy football in 2022, Jefferson once again projects to be one of the highest-valued players in the NFL.
Justin Jefferson’s dynasty profile for 2022
In fantasy, it used to be all about the third-year WR breakout. After taking some time to adjust to the NFL game, receivers would begin to flourish. Then, it was the sophomore swing, as Year 2 proved to be the season to expect a significant jump. But then Jefferson came along and became one of the best receivers in the NFL right out of the gates.
After smashing Randy Moss’ rookie records with 88 receptions, 1,400 yards, and 7 TDs, Jefferson followed it up with 108 receptions on 167 targets for 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2021. His 3,032 yards are the most in NFL history for a player through their first two years in the league. Jefferson’s only getting better and not yet in his prime.
After posting a WR6 finish and 17.1 PPR points per game in Year 1, Jefferson proved it was no fluke by putting up 19.4 ppg and ranking as the WR4 in 2021. For a player who heavily relies on deeper targets (league-leading 2,218 intended air yards in 2021), Jefferson is shockingly consistent from a fantasy perspective.
In his 33 active games, Jefferson has finished as a WR1 33% of the time. He’s ranked as a WR2 (top 24 or better) in 66% of his games. In 2021, 82% of his games (14) saw him finish inside the top 24. Jefferson is special. There are no two ways about it.
Jefferson is a Tier 1 receiver
Jefferson is either the No. 1 or No. 2 receiver in dynasty rankings. The only other player who I can make an argument for would be Ja’Marr Chase. Both are 6’1″ and 200 pounds, are under 23 years old, have sub-4.45 40-yard dash speed, and can win in multiple areas of the field. It just so happens they were also teammates at LSU.
Jefferson and Chase are in a tier of their own among dynasty receivers. Given how long a receiver can maintain value compared to other positions, Jefferson is a top-three pick in dynasty drafts heading into 2022.
Fantasy projection for Jefferson
As a general rule, I tend to be conservative when I create my projections. I have found more success betting on the 90% output range and giving room for growth. Otherwise, I feel I am just projecting every player to hit their ceilings for both utilization and efficiency. But when my formula kicks out an alarmingly high projection for Jefferson, I look at it and go, “Yeah, I can see it.” 2022 is likely to be another one of those examples.
Jefferson is not only a target hog (26% target share in 2020 and 29% in 2021), but his command over the air yards is unrivaled. There is only one target when Kirk Cousins wants to push the ball. After accounting for 38% of the intended air yards in 2020, Jefferson saw a whopping 51.6% in 2022. It was the highest individual total of any receiver in the league, followed by A.J. Brown (45.7%), Terry McLaurin (42.4%), and DJ Moore (41.7%).
Jefferson saw an uptick in red-zone targets in 2022
The only area where Jefferson had fallen behind his teammate Adam Thielen is in the red zone. That was until 2021. In Jefferson’s rookie year, Thielen saw 19 red-zone targets (sixth in the NFL) compared to Jefferson’s 10. Thielen turned those into 13 of his 14 total touchdowns. But in 2021, it was Jefferson with the 20-to-13 advantage. Once again, these were highly efficient targets, with Jefferson and Thielen each scoring 7 touchdowns.
It’s is worth noting that Thielen did miss four games. But even in games where they played together, Jefferson had a noticeable uptick. Additionally, I would not be surprised to see Thielen get off to a slow start as he underwent ankle surgery late in the season.
Kevin O’Connell’s hiring should benefit Jefferson
New Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell already has a relationship with Cousins going back to his time as Washington’s QB coach. He spent the last two seasons as the OC for the Los Angeles Rams. Odds are we see a more vertically-oriented offense in Minnesota. Who does that benefit the most? You guessed it — none other than Jefferson.
Assuming health, if Jefferson sees north of 150 targets (which he did last season), pencil him in for 1,500 yards and 8-11 touchdowns. That would be a career year for others, but Jefferson still has room to outperform this early back-of-the-napkin projection.