EAGAN, Minn. — Justin Jefferson was cool and calm as he collected a franchise-rookie-record 88 receptions and shattered the NFL mark for a rook with 1,400 receiving yards in 2020.
Imagine if the soon-to-be-22-year-old had the benefit of an in-person and on-field offseason program, full training camp and preseason games before his debut campaign.
Instead, Jefferson made a splash the size that very few rookies have without any of the helpful transitional elements, showing his pro readiness that Vikings scouts observed in his play at LSU.
Now, he's a marked man — or at least he's prepping like one. Jefferson, whose birthday will fall Wednesday during the second day of Vikings minicamp, explained last week that he's tried to add "some new moves into my inventory" to counteract what future opponents will see if they study last season's film.
View the best images from Week 3 of OTAs at the TCO Performance Center shot in black-and-white by the Vikings team photographer Andy Kenutis.
"I mean, that's the hard part about the league and doing great things in the league," Jefferson said. "There's someone always watching your tape and studying your game."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said two weeks ago that the "biggest thing" he's seen out of Jefferson this year is he's "very, very confident right now."
"He's a lot more talkative, a lot more excitable, I guess, is a way to go," Zimmer said. "He still runs great routes, catches the ball. But he's still got to continue to do things right every single day, and that'll allow him to continue to ascend into the player that he has the ability to be."
The Vikings offseason efforts to bring in a bevy of veteran cornerbacks, including eight-time Pro Bowler and fellow former LSU star Patrick Peterson, have given Jefferson new kinds of competition.
"I've been trying to apply some of the pressure to 'Pat Pete.' He's a great corner and is so smart," Jefferson said. "He's so patient, so I'm definitely trying to work some new moves on him and see what works and what doesn't."
Jefferson elaborated that going against Peterson, in addition to being beneficial, is "pretty fun, actually."
"We don't really get to see a guy like 'Pat Pete' every single game," Jefferson said. "Being able to go against him, and for him to show us different looks and [us to run] routes off those different looks gets us way better and makes it easier on game day to go up against a guy that's not like 'Pat Pete.' "
Jefferson has been able to grow with quarterback Kirk Cousins through the valuable time on the field this spring, and their lockers at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center are adjacent to enhance the off-field relationship between the two.
Cousins said the virtual nature of last year's offseason program and lack of preseason games might have delayed Jefferson's role with the team expanding until Week 3 of 2020.
"It became difficult to not only evaluate someone, to see what they're ready to do, but also, just all that we were throwing at him, it's much easier to learn it when you're playing football as opposed to just talking about it in a meeting or a walk-through," Cousins said. "There's value now for that next wave of young players coming through to be able to have that time on task.
"Certainly Justin proved he was caught up to speed very quickly and had a great rookie year, so now it's just about building on that and now being able to be consistent year-in and year-out moving forward," Cousins said. "He certainly looks to be the same player that he was last year, and I would say the same of a lot of other guys on our offense."
Perhaps the biggest difference for Jefferson so far this offseason is that less-experienced players are turning to him for advice.
"I was telling the rookies, 'Just grasp to this moment,' because I didn't have this moment," Jefferson said. "I wasn't able to come early to practices and get situated earlier and get connected with Kirk a little earlier. It just feels good, just to really be back with the team and be back involved with everyone."