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Vikings Rookies of Year Moss, Harvin, White & Flatley Surprise Jefferson
By Eric Smith Dec 28, 2020

The collection of talent on the videoconference was legendary. And it featured a quartet of former Vikings wide receivers who all had something in common, along with a budding superstar at the same position who is trying to join their exclusive group.

Last week, Vikings Entertainment Network hosted a 45-minute roundtable with the four wide receivers in team history who have won Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Randy Moss (1998) was there, as was Percy Harvin (2009), Sammy White (1976) and Paul Flatley (1963).

So, too, was Justin Jefferson, the Vikings star who has set a rookie record with 73 catches in his first season. He also has 1,182 receiving yards, joining Moss (1,313) as the only two players to break the 1,000-yard mark as rookies in Vikings history.

Jefferson has also set a Vikings rookie record with six 100-yard performances. He leads all rookie wide receivers in receptions and yards and is second in touchdown catches.

The former LSU star, who has seven scores in 2020, was giddy (not, Griddy) when he saw the faces pop up on his screen.

"It's amazing to be talking to these guys," Jefferson said. "The things they [did] and the things I watched them do, it's amazing to talk to them and be in the same conversation with them."

Here's a quick rundown on the esteemed group that joined Jefferson on the call, which was hosted by "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen, plus highlights from an incredible chat between the group.

Percy Harvin, 2009

The former University of Florida star seemingly did it all in 2009, producing more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and eight total touchdowns. Harvin hauled in 60 receptions for 790 yards and six touchdowns through the air, but was also a threat on special teams. He returned a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns as a rookie, including one in just his third NFL game.

Randy Moss, 1998

The 21st overall pick couldn't be stopped. Moss tied a franchise single-season record with 17 touchdown catches, which is also an NFL rookie record. The former Marshall standout scored twice in his first NFL game and took off from there. The Hall of Famer's biggest performances occurred at Green Bay (five catches for 190 yards and two scores) and Dallas on Thanksgiving (three catches for 163 yards and three scores) on national broadcasts. He had four total multi-score games and set a franchise record with four 100-yard performances as a rookie that has been passed by Jefferson's half dozen. Moss ended his rookie season with 69 catches for 1,313 yards as the Vikings went 15-1 and reached the NFC title game.

Sammy White, 1976

White's rookie season included 51 catches for 906 yards and 10 scores to help the Vikings win the NFC Central. The second-round pick out of Grambling made a big initial splash with a 210-yard performance against the Lions, which still stands as the single-game, regular-seson record in Minnesota. White also had a pair of scores in that game, which was one of two multi-score games rookie. He also hauled in three touchdown catches in the regular-season finale against the Dolphins.

Paul Flatley, 1963

Flatley was the 1963 NFL Rookie of the Year. He caught 51 passes for 867 yards and four touchdowns over the course of 14 games in Minnesota's third season as a franchise.

What are your initial thoughts on Jefferson's rookie season so far?

Moss: "Just to look at a young stud like Justin in college … when he had so many great players around him … you kind of hear some of the things that were said and talked about him coming out in the draft. Things about his size and his ability, or inability, to get off the line and get off the jam … sort of the same things that were said about me when I came out … my size and being able to get off the jam and be physical. Being able to see a young kid like Jefferson come in and be a receiver in the league … he's part of the Minnesota Vikings, so that makes it even [more] special. The main thing I like about him is that he brings a little spunk, some pizazz, to the game … and that Griddy dance. It's fun to watch him, it really is."

Harvin: "Electric. Nothing but electric. I enjoy watching him play and I'm going to continue to watch him play. It's been a joy, big dog, keep it up."

When did you know you could make an impact in the NFL as a rookie?

Moss: "I think it was probably my first game. [Everybody laughs]. The reason why … it was looking at guys like [Warren] Sapp and Simeon Rice and Derrick Brooks … guys that I grew up watching. I had a question when I went to college … 'Can I compete on the Division I level?' So when I got to the NFL and hearing all the naysayers — for me to come out my first game and go against John Lynch and [Ronde] Barber and those guys — to be able to put up two touchdowns at the Metrodome … it was fun to do. But it let myself know I could do some great things in this league."

White: "At the time, we played six preseason games. My first three, I would have great practices and dominate 1-on-1s … then I would get into the game and start putting doubt into myself. I would beat the defensive back, but I wasn't doing the most important thing of catching the football. It was the fifth preseason game, I started the game. In the first half, ran a post … wide open … dropped the ball again. I dropped my head and was down on myself. I didn't start the second half but the game was close, so Bud put me back in at the end, and I ended up catching the winning touchdown. From that point on, can't nobody stop me."

Harvin: "I think my first game gave me confidence. I had scored my first touchdown from Brett [Favre]. But when I felt like I belonged and could really do damage was when we went against San Francisco … the kick return for a touchdown. That is when I knew I could make big plays on this level. It was a game where everybody was watching."

Flatley: "I had only played wide receiver one year at Northwestern. I was drafted by the Vikings but I wasn't certain I could make the team. Didn't know I could play in the league. Fortunately, I had Norm Van Brocklin as a coach. He had been an all-star quarterback and knew the passing game very well. And I had a quarterback by the name of Fran Tarkenton who could keep the ball alive, and I could run several patterns on the same play call and he would find me. I learned the game because of those two people, and I was very fortunate to be a Minnesota Viking."

Jefferson: "Me just being drafted and coming up to Minnesota, it was a clicker right there. I had been dreaming of that moment for so long. All of the hard work and extra catches had paid off. It was my time to show the doubters what I could do. I'm not making these plays because [Heisman-winning quarterback] Joe Burrow threw me the ball [at LSU]. This is because of me. The third game of the season, when I had the opportunity to start, I just took it and ran with it. I was going against Malcolm Butler [of the Titans], one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. I wanted to make my statement and make sure he knew I was here to stay and make these big plays."

Flatley and White on how the game has changed for wide receivers in the past 40 years…

Flatley: "I'm envious to see them with their quickness and speed. I admire all of these guys for what they were able to accomplish. The ability to play the game of football today is probably higher than it was when I played, probably because of the coaching. I always admired Randy Moss for playing the way he did, because he was nonstop and made things happen."

White: "It's a different day. In my day, we ran the ball [on first and second down], and threw on third downs. Most teams now have anywhere from six, seven or eight receivers on the roster … in my day we had three. To see four receivers on the field was unheard of. These days, every down is pretty much a passing down and your running game starts when you get inside the 10-yard line. It's a great time to be a receiver."

White on his single-game record 210 receiving yards against Detroit in 1976…

White: "The first thing about it, we knew Detroit was a blitzing team. They were going to show all-out blitz and we would have a lot of 1-on-1 coverage. All week, we knew that Lem Barney, a Hall of Fame defensive back, liked to jump routes. It was easy to show him an out, then an up. Show him an out, then run a post. It was one of them days where it felt like it was wide open. I was able to beat him, and Fran was able to get me the ball down the field. The record should be more than 210 yards because I had a crash at the goal line. I beat him, but Barney came up behind me and hit my heel when I was holding the ball up with one hand. The ball went on through the end zone."

Moss on Jefferson breaking his single-season record for catches by a rookie, and Jefferson being 132 yards from topping his rookie record for receiving yards…

"Records are meant to be broken. Justin, keep doing your thing … I love watching you."

Jefferson on watching Harvin and Moss growing up…

Jefferson: "These guys are amazing. I wanted to be just like them. My brother played at LSU, too, so I had seen Percy play a couple times at Florida. I fell in love with that atmosphere and SEC football. Watching these guys on film and the different routes they ran and the aggression they played with, I just wanted to [model] my game right after these guys."

Moss on the ability to make an impact as a rookie wide receiver…

Moss: "I always thought it was being in a good situation … being in a good offense and having a [talented] quarterback. But when you look at how the game has evolved and changed, I think it just has to do with the guy that comes in with passion and heart and loves the game. Being able to look at the guys on this panel — Mr. White, Percy, JJ — looking at the passion we have for the game of football … it all shows in our play. At the end of the day, when you're sitting at home reflecting like us older guys on our careers and what we were able to accomplish, being able to win an individual award like [Offensive] Rookie of the Year, you sit back and reflect and look at the guys that were up for that award, it's just something special. When you see that a guy like Justin is coming in and playing with motivation and determination to go out there every play, it's fun to watch as a fan. Just watching from a fan perspective, it's good to watch a young kid coming in … a rookie being able to have success … and making it look easy and having fun doing it. From a fan to a player, man, it's just good to see good football."

Harvin on how he would have fared with a virtual offseason…

Moss: "I couldn't imagine trying to grasp the offense. It's a new city, you're going to be moving from college to a whole new town. You don't really know people, you're meeting them on the computer. Just things like that, and not even to talk about routes and things like that, just the camaraderie you miss from OTAs and minicamp. You see those guys over and over, and you get comfortable with them and learn their language. He didn't have any of that, and just went into a new scenario … so what he's doing is miraculous. I came in and had a great supporting cast … Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, the Williams Wall [Pat and Kevin], Jared Allen … I had those guys to show me how to get going in the preseason and into the season. He just kind of went into it naked so my hat's off to you. All the things Moss said … it's been a joy watching another young receiver play with the passion that I played with, that Moss played with. You got that 'it' factor. You seem to be enjoying it and relaxed while playing. Just keep doing what you're doing."

What do you remember about being drafted by the Vikings?

White: "First thing, you're just happy you just drafted. It's a nerve-racking day … you sit around not knowing what time you're going to get a call. I was on campus but at the student union, so they had to come find me on draft day to tell me I was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. You're so happy you got drafted, you can't wait to get there. You learn what you have to do. You know about the weather, but you don't think about the weather until winter time. [Training] camp was, the beginning of the season was fun … but that first cold game — I think it was in Green Bay — was a blizzard. Now they don't have to worry about the outside weather, but that game was so cold, I couldn't take my hand out of my pants. I went to Bud and told him that I couldn't help him that day. But eventually, you get used to it."

Harvin: "I was excited, just because I knew the players that we already had on the team. I kind of felt my skill set might be that next piece that I could throw out there. Weather-wise, I didn't know what to expect. I had lived in the cold in Virginia but had been away for it for a few years in Gainesville. I was familiar with some cold, but not Minnesota cold. The biggest thing was the driving. You needed an electric starter … I ended up in the ditch a few times in Eden Prairie and had to get towed. I wasn't used to that."

Jefferson on playing home games with no fans … and cold-weather games…

Jefferson: "You can tell [the passion from Vikings fans] on social media, but that's probably the closest love you're going to get [in 2020]. We don't have any fans in the stadium, so you have to being your own energy, your own swagger. That's not something anybody is used to. But these cold games, I've never played in snow in my life."

Moss: "Wait until you go to Green Bay."

Harvin: "Or Chicago."

White: "Your first game in the snow is going to be so much fun. You're going to fall down, the defender is going to fall down and it's a race to see who can get up the quickest."

Moss on his excitement level of the Vikings having another star wide receiver…

Moss: "I'm just going to tell you, there's a lot of excitement around the Minnesota Vikings. A lot of excitement with you just being there. I'm just happy to see another wide receiver come and put his foot in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings. It's always good to see Minnesota have a guy making a name for himself as a wide receiver. When I say I'm proud of you, I mean it. I can't express it enough. Just coming from my heart, I am proud of you."

What final piece of advice would you give to Jefferson?

White: "Just believe in yourself and continue what you're doing. Everything will fall into place. Just keep doing what you're doing, and it will happen for you. It's our position, so it's got to happen."

Harvin: "Just to stay focused. Take care of your body and believe in yourself. Don't change up too much, keep working hard and block out the noise. No matter how good this year is, keep building on it. Never settle. Handle your business."

View the frame-by-frame shots of Justin Jefferson's first career touchdown he hauled in during the Week 3 Vikings-Titans game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Flatley: "Work as hard as you can, and be as creative as you can, because a lot of things don't happen as they're diagramed to be. If you can create a situation and provide your team and yourself with a better opportunity, that's what you need to do. Be creative."

Moss: "We're proud of you, Justin. Keep doing your thing, man. And when I say we're proud of you, that goes worldwide, just not here. Just make sure you take care of yourself. I always treated my body like a basketball player … take care of your knees and your lower body. Invest in your body in the offseason. Everything else, you're doing a great job. Just keep your head up and keep God first. We're proud of you."

Jefferson on what it would mean to be the fifth Vikings wide receiver to win Offensive Rookie of the Year…

Jefferson: "It [would] mean a lot. Just being in conversation with these guys and having my name under these guys, it means so much. This is probably one of the best rookie classes of all-time, so to say I'm leading all rookie receivers in yards … and being up for [Offensive] Rookie of the Year … it's really a blessing. It's a true blessing, and I couldn't ask for any more."

By: Eric Smith

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