The race for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is on, and the clear frontrunners are a pair of first-year phenoms who share a first name.
Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson and Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert each impressed throughout their rookie campaigns, and it remains to be seen who will take home the Rookie of the Year honors from The Associated Press.
In ESPN's NFL Rookie Rankings for 2020, Jeff Legwold slated Jefferson at No. 2 on the list and highlighted his 88 catches for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns. Legwold wrote:
Two picks in, and we have two Justins with rookie records. Jefferson set his mark for receiving yards in a rookie season – [Anquan] Boldin's record had stood for 16 years – and his 88 catches also set a new Vikings team record for rookies, putting him ahead of Hall of Famer Randy Moss. He finished the year with seven 100-yard games and will be a major piece for this Minnesota offense going forward.
Jefferson was one of two receivers included in Legwold's rankings, joining Pittsburgh's Chase Claypool. The former Notre Dame standout rounded out the list at the No. 10 spot.
As the Steelers passing offense contracted a bit as the season wore on, Claypool was still the team's only receiver to catch more than 40 passes and average more than 10.5 yards per catch (he finished the regular season at 14.1). His nine receiving touchdowns – seven of which came by Week 10 – also tied for the team lead. And to cap off a solid rookie season, Claypool made two touchdown catches in the Steelers [Wild Card] loss to the Browns.
Legwold's full list is as follows: Herbert, Jefferson, DE Chase Young (Washington Football Team), T Tristan Wirfs (Buccaneers), S Jeremy Chinn (Panthers), RB Jonathan Taylor (Colts), QB Joe Burrow (Bengals), RB James Robinson (Jaguars), S Antoine Winfield (Buccaneers) and Claypool.
Legwold also included a "just missed" category with the following names: WR Tee Higgins (Bengals), G Mike Onwenu (Patriots), T Mekhi Becton (Jets) and T Jedrick Wills, Jr. (Browns).
Don't forget that Jefferson is a nominee for the Pepsi Zero Sugar Rookie of the Year, which is determined by fan votes. Vote here.
Pro Football Focus suggests free-agent signing for Vikings
The start of the new league year is still a couple of months away, but NFL pundits are looking ahead at free agency and which players could suit up for new teams in 2021.
PFF's Sam Monson opined one free agent that each team should pursue this spring, noting that they might not all be "marquee names" but that he focused on best fit per situation. For the Vikings, he pointed to Shelby Harris, who played defensive end in Denver's 3-4 scheme.
Originally a seventh-round draft pick by the Raiders in 2014, Harris spent two seasons in Oakland before joining the Broncos, with whom he's played the past four seasons. Over the past two years, Harris has started all 27 games he's played for Denver. Monson wrote:
The Minnesota Vikings defensive line this season was one of the worst the league has seen in a number of years. The unit lost Michael Pierce before the season to a COVID-19 opt-out and missed out on Danielle Hunter due to an injury. Even before those losses, though, the team was struggling on the defensive line.
The Vikings don't have much salary cap space to play with, so an under-the-radar player like Shelby Harris might make a lot of sense. Harris has an overall PFF grade of at least 76.0 in each of the past four seasons and can cause problems against the run and pass. This season, he had 27 total pressures and 19 defensive stops on only 441 snaps.
As for Minnesota's NFC North rivals? Monson suggested that Green Bay attempt to sign dominant linebacker K.J. Wright, a 2011 fourth-round pick who's spent his entire career thus far in Seattle.
He tabbed wide receivers for Chicago and Detroit, saying the Lions should add current Bears receiver Allen Robinson II. If Robinson does opt to leave the Windy City, Monson said, the Bears could target JuJu Smith-Schuster.