EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings selected LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson with the 22nd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on Thursday night.
The 21-year-old celebrated the news with a close group of family members at his home in St. Rose, Louisiana.
"Words cannot describe the feeling," Jefferson said. "My heart pounding as soon as I'm receiving the phone call and realizing that I'm finally becoming a professional athlete and playing for an NFL team. It's definitely exciting, and I'm ready to join the team.
"I have my family here, and I'm just relishing this moment with them," he later added. "Everybody is [joyous] and happy, crying a lot of tears."
Although the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will delay Jefferson from donning his new Vikings uniform, fans already know he looks good in purple.
Jefferson had one of the best receiving seasons in LSU history as a junior in 2019. He tied for the national lead with 111 catches (a school single-season record) and finished second in the country overall with 18 touchdown receptions, which trailed only Tigers teammate Ja'Marr Chase's 20.
He was the third LSU product off the board, joining quarterback Joe Burrow, the first overall pick (Bengals) and linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson (Jaguars). He was the fifth receiver drafted of the night and one of five former Tigers to come off the board on opening night (LB Patrick Queen was picked by the Ravens at 28, and RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire went to the Chiefs at 32).
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman gave his initial reaction to the pick, saying he's "very excited" that Jefferson fell to Minnesota at No. 22.
"Great route runner, great hands, big-time playmaker," Spielman said. "And I know from talking with [Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer] and [Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak], the type of offense we run, his skill set fits us perfectly.
"That was a huge get for us so far in the first round," added Spielman, who traded Minnesota's No. 25 pick to the 49ers in exchange for the 31st, 117th and 176th overall selections.
Zimmer spoke to media members from Zimmer Ridge Ranch in Kentucky and said he was pleased with the team's first pick of the year.
"Justin's a good player. He's a guy that we really, really liked," Zimmer said. "I know the offensive staff really liked him – a tough, competitive guy. Goes up and gets the football, a hard worker, he makes a lot of contested catches. A really good player, a good kid. He played a very similar offense in college, so I think he'll fit in well."
Jefferson last season played almost exclusively in the slot, an area Vikings receiver Adam Thielen often occupies. But Minnesota's first-rounder said he's played outside "all my life" until sliding inside in 2019 and plans to play wherever the Vikings ask him to.
"I'm just excited to play for the organization and play [with] Kirk [Cousins] and Adam and all those guys on the team. I'm excited to give it my all," he said.
Jefferson told reporters he's watched a significant amount of film on Cousins and is looking forward to playing with the quarterback, whom Minnesota extended this offseason.
"Kirk is definitely a great quarterback, and I'm definitely excited to see what we have in store," he said.
Spielman didn't rule out drafting additional receivers in later rounds but said he believes the Vikings have "a pretty good crew" with the likes of Thielen and newcomer Tajaé Sharpe, who joined the team in free agency.
ESPN College GameDay analyst Kirk Herbstreit said during ABC's broadcast of the NFL Draft that Jefferson plays "with a chip on his shoulder" much like Burrow.
It's possible Jefferson's edge comes from growing up as the little brother in a football family; both of his older brothers, Jordan (QB) and Rickey (DB) also played for the Tigers.
"Reminds me of a kid that grew up playing a lot of backyard football with those brothers – being the youngest one, trying to prove himself. Natural ball skills. Everything you want to see from a guy," Herbstreit said. "What I love is they get the ball to him early to kind of set the tone because of the energy that he can provide and the personality that he has. He's dominant in the slot because of that length, and the quickness to be able to separate, but like I said, you get the ball downfield, body control, ability to adjust to the ball, this is an outstanding pick here."
It wasn't only at home that Jefferson had to prove himself, however. Coming out of Destrehan High School (Louisiana), he was given zero stars by ESPN.
Looking back, he said it was hard to imagine he'd one day be wearing a Minnesota Vikings hat on night one of the draft.
"I was very small, undersized," said Jefferson, who jumped from 5-foot-7 to 6-1 during his junior year of high school. "Lightly recruited. The whole thing. Definitely didn't think this would be coming. Just being in this situation, not a lot of people can say that they were drafted – [especially] in the first round."
Jefferson, who ranked third in FBS with 1,540 receiving yards and helped the Tigers win the College Football Playoff National Championship, called it a blessing to receive a phone call from the Vikings.
"You only can thank God for putting me in this situation," Jefferson told NFL Draft co-host Maria Taylor. "It's a dream come true. I've been dreaming about it since I was a little kid, so finally being in this situation and going through this process, it's amazing, and it's [by the grace of] God."
NFL Network's Michael Irvin said he "loved" the selection of Jefferson at No. 22.
"This kid can flat-out play football," Irvin told NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah. "He made great plays deep, he made plays over the top of people, and … he can take short passes and make long plays out of them.
Jeremiah compared Jefferson to Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, a three-time Pro Bowler.
"His ability to separate, he catches everything, he's always where he's supposed to be. He's a pro." Jeremiah said. "I had a buddy in the league who said this was Gary Kubiak's favorite player in the draft. He's going to catch a million balls in Minnesota."
After getting in the end zone 18 times last season, Jefferson additionally garnered positive attention for his post-TD celebrations – which he now has the opportunity to bring to an NFL stage.
Taylor asked Jefferson if he plans to unveil any new moves in Minnesota.
"I haven't fully decided yet. I'm still going to have The Griddy in my backpack," Jefferson said of his go-to. "I'm definitely going to search for more dance moves to do in the end zone."
Minnesota boosted its offense with a selection that was acquired in March in a trade with Buffalo for wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
The last LSU receiver drafted in the first round was Odell Beckham, Jr., who was taken 12th overall by the Giants in 2014. He is the first LSU player to be drafted in the first round by the Vikings but will join fellow former Tiger Danielle Hunter, whom Minnesota snagged 88th overall in 2015. Hunter tweeted his support of the selection:
Former Vikings receiver Cris Carter spent time with Jefferson at the combine as a mentor for the position group. The Hall of Famer offered praise for the young pass-catcher – before and after the pick.
This marked the second time in franchise history the Vikings drafted at No. 22. Minnesota also took a wide receiver the first time, picking Percy Harvin back in 2009.
View photos of LSU WR Justin Jefferson who was selected by the Vikings in the first round of the NFL Draft.