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Lunchbreak: Justin Jefferson Among Zierlein's Offensive Rookie of the Year Candidates

Vikings first-round pick Justin Jefferson will have an opportunity to shine in his debut NFL season.

Minnesota selected Jefferson 22nd overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, using the pick received from Buffalo in part of the trade deal that sent Stefon Diggs to the Bills.

NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein included Jefferson among his 10 candidates for 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Zierlein offered "historical trends that could help piece the puzzle together." He wrote:

Since 1990, just four players have won the Heisman Trophy and OROY in consecutive seasons (Kyler Murray, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Eddie George).

No tight end or offensive lineman has ever won the award.

Just three wide receivers have won the award over the past 21 seasons.

The OROY award has been won by NFC rookies for 13 straight seasons.

Zierlein ranked Jefferson seventh on his list. He pointed out that while the receiver was good in 2018 at LSU, "he was great in 2019, showing off improved route running and impeccable ball skills."

He steps into a pretty good situation, taking over for the departed Stefon Diggs in a role that should feature accurate, catchable throws coming his way from Kirk Cousins. Adam Thielen should return healthy after a hamstring injury slowed him last season, and Dalvin Cook – assuming he does not end up holding out – appears to be the focal point of the offense, but there should still be plenty of action coming Jefferson's way as the WR2 in [Offensive Coordinator] Gary Kubiak's scheme.

Leading Zierlein's pool of candidates is Bengals QB Joe Burrow, who was Jefferson's quarterback at LSU. Zierlein also highlighted Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (also from LSU), Lions RB D'Andre Swift, Colts RB Jonathan Taylor, Broncos WR Jerry Jeudy, Rams RB Cam Akers, Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa, Raiders WR Henry Ruggs and Colts WR Michael Pittman, Jr.

He added Bills RB Zach Moss as the "dark-horse candidate," a designation Vikings CB Jeff Gladney was given in Zierlein's look at Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates.

Bleacher Report tabs Sharpe as Vikings 'biggest sleeper' heading into training camp

The 2020 offseason has been a strange one, to be sure.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams have yet to officially meet in-person, and it remains to be seen exactly training camps will look like under new guidelines to ensure the health and safety of everyone participating.

The above uncertainty is new this year, but questions exist heading into training camp every season, including which under-the-radar player will emerge as a standout. Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report recently took a look across the league and named a “sleeper pick” for each NFL team. He wrote:

View photos of the Vikings 2020 roster as of August 9, 2020.

Sleepers in this context are 20-something-year-olds who have never been Pro Bowlers or All-Pros and weren't full-season starters last year or aren't expected to be full-season starters this year. They aren't widely considered key players but have a chance to make statements this summer, fall and winter.

Gagnon took into consideration "career trajectories, roster competitions and roster openings" in making his decisions.

For the Vikings, he highlighted wide receiver Tajaé Sharpe, whom Minnesota signed this spring as a free agent. The 2016 fifth-round draft pick spent his first four seasons in Tennessee. He started six of 15 games played for the Titans in 2019 and recorded 25 catches for 329 yards and a career-high four touchdowns.

Sharpe's production for the Titans wasn't flashy, but Gagnon said he's "not ready to give up" on the 25-year-old pass catcher.

The four-year veteran is expected to at least grab the No. 3 receiver job as a new member of the Minnesota Vikings with rookie first-round pick Justin Jefferson expected by most to essentially replace the departed Stefon Diggs. But you never know what to expect from a rookie wide receiver, and Sharpe has the ability to deliver as a starter without being the focal point of the balanced offense.

He's never caught 50 passes or scored five touchdowns in a season, but Sharpe is still only 25 and is coming off a quietly strong season. His cumulative numbers weren't big because the Titans have a slew of options on offense, but the UMass product averaged a stellar 9.4 yards per target. He caught more than 71 percent of the passes thrown his way and dropped zero of those 35 throws from Ryan Tannehill and Marcus Mariota.

It wouldn't be surprising if Sharpe took off in a new setting.

View the Vikings rookie records for most passing yards during a game and season.

Vikings DL ranked 2nd-best in NFC North

Minnesota's defensive line will look different in 2020, but it remains a talented position group.

Jason Ross, Jr., who covers the Lions for Sports Illustrated, ranked the NFC North defensive lines and placed the Vikings at No. 2. Ross wrote:

The 48 sacks that Minnesota racked up ranked as the fifth-highest number in that respective category. It was a key reason for why its defense only allowed 19.3 points per game in 2019.

There are unavoidable question marks hanging over the Minnesota defensive line heading into 2020.

The departures of Pro Bowl-caliber linemen Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen are two notable losses up front.

The Vikings still possess Danielle Hunter, who led the team with a glowing 14.5 sacks last season.

Ifeadi Odenigbo could step into an expanded role next season and emerge as one of the league's best up-and-coming linemen.

Ross ranked the Lions and Packers behind the Vikings, respectively, and topped his list with the Bears defensive line.

In addition to explosive edge rusher Khalil Mack, Chicago added two-time Pro Bowler Robert Quinn to its arsenal this offseason. Ross also noted the strength that Akiem Hicks, when healthy, provides to the interior of the line.

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