Through five games, Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson remains at the top of the rookie class according to analytics site Pro Football Focus.
PFF's Anthony Treash ranked the 10 highest-graded rookies at this point of the 2020 season.
Jefferson has shined thus far for Minnesota. His average of 19.5 yards per reception ranks fifth in the NFL, and his 71-yard touchdown against the Titans in Week 3 is the fifth-longest score of the season so far. Jefferson has totaled 371 yards through the air, which is 13th-most in the league. Treash wrote:
After back-to-back weeks of leading the NFL in PFF receiving grade, Jefferson fell slightly back to earth in Week 5 in Seattle. He earned just a 55.5 receiving grade for the game as he caught three of his five targets for just 23 yards.
Treash pointed out that one incompletion was a drop, and the other was an underthrown pass by Kirk Cousins that was intercepted by Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright.
The Minnesota offense was extremely conservative in the first half of action against the Seahawks, and when it became do-or-die time in the second half, Cousins repeatedly went to top receiver Adam Thielen. Jefferson and the Vikings have to be licking their chops at their Week 6 matchup, though, as they get to face one of the worst secondaries in the NFL in the Atlanta Falcons.
Jefferson was ranked behind New England guard Michael Onwenu, who topped Treash's list.
Listed after Jefferson from 3-10, respectively, were receiver Chase Claypool (Steelers), receiver Laviska Shenault, Jr. (Jaguars), running back James Robinson (Jaguars), guard Damien Lewis (Seahawks), running back Antonio Gibson (Washington Football Team), quarterback Joe Burrow (Bengals), safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. (Buccaneers) and receiver CeeDee Lamb (Cowboys).
Minnesota isn't out of it, says 'The Athletic'
Starting a season 1-4 is less than ideal, to be sure.
But the Vikings aren't technically out of it, said Chad Graff of The Athletic. Graff put together 10 takeaways following Minnesota's heartbreaking loss to Seattle, and he included the potential for a Vikings postseason appearance. Graff wrote:
The league added another spot in the playoffs this season, which helps the Vikings as they try to somehow mount an impressive end to the season. Such a finish isn't unheard of.
Per Pro Football Reference, 12 teams since 1990 have finished with a record above .500 after starting the season 1-4. And 10 teams in that time have reached the playoffs after opening 1-4. The 2005 Vikings were one of those teams to finish with a record above .500 (though they didn't reach the playoffs).
So it won't be easy for the Vikings. But it's been done before, and it's easier this season thanks to an added playoff spot.
Among Graff's other takeaways was that running back Alexander Mattison can "carry the load if needed." Mattison stepped
The second-year running back got 20 carries after Dalvin Cook suffered a groin injury in Sunday's game and turned those into 112 yards. No, he didn't pick up a yard when the Vikings needed it most on fourth-and-inches with the game on the line. But Mattison is certainly capable of filling in for Cook, and he'll likely be needed for at least one game.
Mattison may not have the same explosiveness as Cook, but he's a reliable back who knows how to run in [Offensive Coordinator] Gary Kubiak's wide zone scheme.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of January 4, 2021.
Vikings pass blocking pegged as problem
Minnesota has seen ups and downs from nearly all of its position groups, including the offensive line, in its first five games of the season.
In ESPN's weekly power rankings that also highlight each team's biggest weakness, Courtney Cronin this week pointed to the Vikings pass blocking as being problematic. Cronin wrote:
Minnesota is getting great play out of tackles Riley Reiff and Brian O'Neill, but its pass protection on the interior of the offensive line remains an issue. The Vikings rank 22ndin pass block win rate and can't establish an effective drop-back game because of it. In Seattle on Sunday, Kirk Cousins got hit nearly every time he released the football out of the shotgun in the second half. The QB's third-quarter fumble after being sacked (a turnover that allowed Seattle to score two plays later) was the direct result of porous pass protection.
The Vikings remained at No. 21 in ESPN's power rankings.
The Falcons, whom the Vikings will host at U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday, fell to No. 30 after suffering their fifth straight loss. Atlanta's general manager, head coach and special teams coordinator were fired this week.
ESPN's Vaughn McClure said the Falcons defense is their biggest weakness.
Yes, Matt Ryan hasn't thrown a touchdown over the past two games, and the 0-5 Falcons are built to rely on offense. But the defense can't continue to surrender 32.2 points and 446 total yards per game. And it can't continue to blow big fourth-quarter leads like it did against the Cowboys and Bears.