It would be easy to imagine Justin Jefferson rising from the Lincoln Financial Field turf on Monday night as the ghost of draft blunders past prior to the Eagles’ game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Minnesota’s 6-foot-1, 195-pound third-year receiver has definitely haunted the Eagles the last two years.
He’s not an apparition.
He’s very real and was supposed to be “an Eagle.” He will be forever remembered by the Eagles’ fanbase as the generational talent that should be wearing midnight green instead of Jalen Reagor, who the Eagles selected 21st in the 2020 NFL Draft, which prompted the Vikings’ personnel staff to laugh hysterically before they chose LSU’s Jefferson with the 22nd pick.
In the two years both Reagor and Jefferson have been in the NFL, Jefferson has caught 196 passes, for 3,016 yards and 17 touchdowns in comparison to Reagor, who caught 66 passes for 695 yards and three touchdowns.
Now, Reagor, ironically, is a Viking.
Last week, Jefferson, somehow, was wide open at times in the Vikings’ season-opening 23-7 thumping of the Green Bay Packers. In that game, Jefferson caught nine passes for a career-best 184 yards, averaging a career-best 20.4 yards a catch, and two touchdowns.
Seven of the nine passes Jefferson caught were for first downs. His 184 yards receiving was an NFL best after Week 1.
His 20.4 yards average per touch also leads the NFL.
What was so interesting about Jefferson’s Week 1 performance was how blatantly wide open he was at times against a Packers’ defense designed to curtail him. Yet, Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins would find him without any Packers around.
“There are a lot of guys out there, but he’s a special player. I don’t rank guys, but he’s up in that top group,” Eagles’ defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said this week. “He can beat you all different types of ways, so when you’re looking at his game, he’s not a one-dimensional guy. He can take the roof off, he can beat you underneath, he can beat you with yards after catch.
“They do a really good job of deploying him different ways, so it’s hard to have a plan for him to always have two guys on him. It’s going to be a good challenge for us, and we’ll be up for it.”
What the Eagles could do is try and bracket Jefferson, with a corner covering him and tilting the field with a safety on top. They have capable corners in Darius Slay and James Bradberry. But tilting the field wherever Jefferson goes would open other options for the Vikings and their new head coach, Kevin O’Connell, whose offensive wizardry was on full display in Week 1.
Playing chase with Jefferson would reveal what the Eagles are planning schematically. Plus, Minnesota has numerous options that they will no doubt use, if Jefferson receives added attention, which he no doubt will, in Adam Thielen, KJ Osborn and certainly Dalvin Cook.
It will be a problem.
“Explosive. Explosive,” Gannon said in describing the Vikings’ offense. “They have some explosive people over there. The quarterback is a really good player, knows where to go with the ball, comes out fast. Obviously, they have some wide outs and a back. I was with a couple of those guys and they’re really good players, so we’re going to have to be on it to give ourselves a chance to win a game on Monday.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written features for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, and his breaking story on Carson Wentz for PhillyVoice on January 21, 2019. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.