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Justin Jefferson Drawing High Praise in Early Camp Practices

EAGAN, Minn. — Justin Jefferson was among the best wide receivers in college football in 2019, as he helped lead LSU to a perfect season and a national title.

That play-making ability has shown up quickly in Jefferson's new home in Minnesota, as the 2020 first-round draft pick has drawn high praise early and often from coaches and teammates alike.

"It's very encouraging. He's exactly what we drafted," Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak said of the early impressions of the 22nd overall pick on the practice field. "We knew he's a very talented young man that had a comfort zone in the slot because he did that a lot. I play him a little bit of everywhere, teaching him my offense, understanding schemes and what we're doing.

"But [he's a] very good route runner," Kubiak added. "I guess I should say he's really, when you sit there and talk routes and stuff, this kid's very knowledgeable. He's been coached by some good coaches before he got here," Kubiak added. "So, he's working. He's got some great examples around him. So, very encouraged by his work, a long way to go. But very encouraged by his work."

Even those competing with Jefferson for roster spots and playing time have good things to say about him, both on and off the field.

"Justin's a good dude. Super explosive and he is coachable, which is always huge," said wide receiver Chad Beebe. "With a new guy coming in, you want a guy who will ask questions, pick up on things and take coaching, which is what he does."

Added fellow wide out Bisi Johnson: "He's a super-good guy off the field. That's where I'm going to start with it. I really like the kid off the field. On the field, I was telling him [Sunday] his releases were crazy. He was working everybody off the line. We knew coming in this guy was going to be a star, and he's proven just that."

As for Jefferson himself, he's just happy to finally be on the field after enduring an unusual and virtual offseason due to the pandemic.

"It's been great to finally just go out there and play football," Jefferson said. "To be around the guys, to be around the whole receiver corps, the coaches, the quarterbacks – just everybody – giving me a good vibe. It just feels good to be finally here competing with these other guys."

Jefferson thrived as a junior at LSU, tying for the national lead and setting a school single-season record with 111 catches. He finished second in the country overall with 18 touchdown receptions, and was third in FBS with 1,540 receiving yards.

Most of that work came from the slot, as opposing defenses seemingly couldn't stop Jefferson's quickness and athleticism inside.

He's played both inside and outside in early training camp practices, even getting some time with the first-team offense. But no matter where he lines up, it's been easy to see how Jefferson's route-running ability has translated to the NFL.

"I did a lot of slot receiver for LSU my last year, but I've been working on outside my whole career. Just being inside last year, it was to be in a great position for LSU, and that's where they needed me to play, so that's what I did," Jefferson said. "I'm just here to do my job. I'm here to do whatever is asked of me. If Coach Kubiak needs me inside, then I'll play inside. If he needs me outside, then I'll play outside. I'll do both. It's just whatever the team needs.

"We pretty much ran the exact same offense [at LSU], just different terminology," Jefferson added. "Actually being in that pro-style offense last year, it kind of helped me with what I'm going through now. It's kind of easier to pick up plays, concepts, so just being here is kind of making my life a little bit easier."

Added Kubiak: "You can see the signs he shows you right away of knowledge of things he's been taught, and I'll go back to the fact that he's been coached very, very well at LSU. I know Jerry Sullivan. Jerry's one of the top wide receiver coaches I've ever been around. He's benefited from probably his brothers and some really good coaches."

Sullivan, who was an LSU senior offensive assistant and passing game coordinator in 2019, retired in January.

The intensity will soon pick up for Jefferson, who donned pans Monday for the first time as an NFL player.

And with no preseason games, he knows practices are as important as ever to keep improving and getting ready for Minnesota's Week 1 game against Green Bay on Sept. 13.

"I was just talking to some of the other rookie receivers, and we were just saying how we're going to go straight into Week 1," Jefferson said. "We don't have any time to really start it up or get comfortable.

"So really just taking the reps that we have in practice and making them game-like," Jefferson added. "Just every technique, speed-in, speed-out, whatever route that we're running, we just really have to focus more on how we'll be running it in the game and how defenses will be playing."

Jefferson is aware of the expectations that come with being a first-round pick, and that it sometimes takes rookie wide receivers some time to adjust to the NFL.

For reference, only 18 wide receivers have recorded at least 1,000-yard seasons in their first season.

Hall of Famer Randy Moss is the only Vikings player to do so back in 1998, but two players that Jefferson mentioned Monday that he looks up to — Odell Beckham, Jr., and Michael Thomas — also did so.

The Vikings might not need Jefferson to hit that milestone in his rookie season. Instead, they'll gladly take him continuing to be himself and keep making an impact.

"I feel like different rookies have different places that they're put in; they have different things that they go through. But I feel that I have a good chance of [starting] or competing to be one of the top receivers here," Jefferson said. "I'm really just excited to be in Coach Kubiak's offense and to be with these receivers, with these quarterbacks and the rest of the team. We're looking to have a good season this year.

"I'm here to do whatever I need to do. They have some great receivers here; we're looking to do some great things," Jefferson added. "The more that I do in practice – showcasing my skills, showcasing my talent – I guess we'll just see the first game."