EAGAN, Minn. — Everyone who has followed the NFL since 2020 knows Justin Jefferson was ready to hit the ground running.
Three record-shattering seasons later, he's become a household name.
Now, others are learning that teammates believe he's ready for an expanded leadership role in the Vikings locker room. They voted him as one of eight season-long captains last week.
Of course, Jefferson's stats speak for themselves. His highlight reel grabs and signature celebration turned him into a face of the NFL. But it's who he is becoming when only his teammates are around that earned him a "C" on his jersey for the first time in his football-playing career.
Fellow captain and 2020 NFL Draft classmate Josh Metellus described Jefferson's emerging role.
"We had Adam Thielen here and to have a role model like that, cause most receivers are not the true leader on the team, but Thielen was, and I think Jet (Jefferson) did a great job leaning on him and figuring out how he leads. And he's become a leader in his own right," said Metellus, who signed a contract extension Thursday. "He's a great lead-by-example guy. He works the right way and approaches things the right way. And you want a guy like that, especially the caliber player he is, to be a leader."
Thielen (also voted a captain for the Panthers) helped enable Jefferson to remain his authentic self. Now it's the 24-year-old's time to lead his way.
Never in high school or at LSU was Jefferson voted a captain, but that changed last week when Jefferson, Metellus, Kirk Cousins, C.J. Ham, Jordan Hicks, Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith and Brian O'Neill were voted 2023 captains.
"It's definitely something special, especially at this stage," Jefferson said. "To be recognized [by] my teammates, to say I'm a leader, that I represent the team on and off the field. It's something that I definitely cherish and definitely would not [take] for granted."
Jefferson and Metellus were both rookies in 2020 but have forged very different routes to their captaincies.
Jefferson ranks first in the NFL with 4,825 receiving yards since 2020. He set an NFL record with the most yardage in a player's first three seasons and broke Michael Thomas' receptions record for a player's first three seasons (321) with 324.
With the Vikings home-opener approaching fast, Jefferson is focused solely on football. He'll field questions about a possible contract extension, but he knows his résumé speaks for itself.
"I've done something that no one has ever done in the history of the game. So, my situation is a little bit different than everyone else's," Jefferson said. "[I] just keep my mind set on the field. And that's what I continue to do."
Jefferson could make more history on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Buccaneers. He's 175 yards away from becoming the fastest player to 5,000 receiving yards in NFL history. Odell Beckham, Jr., reached that mark in 54 games. Sunday will be Jefferson's 51st career contest.
Come Sunday, it'll be 238 days since Jefferson played at U.S. Bank Stadium. Heavy on the first-time captain's mind is doing what he's always done.
"Last year was a phenomenal start. Having a great game against the Green Bay Packers, a divisional game. But we got to keep that same energy. We got to go beyond that. We got to keep that same momentum and that same energy throughout the whole season," Jefferson said. "But definitely starting off with Week 1, we've got to come out swinging. And we've got to set the tone for the season."