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.
Jefferson, who was clocked at 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, was ranked as the 14th-best player in the draft by NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah.
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.
EAGAN, Minn. — Jeff Gladney waited until the 31st pick for his phone to ring Thursday night.
When his phone did buzz, it was the team the cornerback wanted to hear from on the other line.
The Vikings tabbed the former TCU standout in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, using their second selection on Day 1 to bolster a position that was an area of need for Minnesota.
“I had talked to them a few times in the draft process … I never lost faith in [the Vikings],” Gladney said. “I thought they were going to draft me, and they did.”
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer shared an anecdote from Thursday’s call with Gladney, a First-Team All-Big 12 selection with the Horned Frogs who is happy to stay in purple.
“When we called him — [college scout] Pat [Roberts] gets him on the phone — and he said, ‘I’ve been waiting for you guys to call.’ That’s part of what you like about him,” Zimmer said. “He’s a competitor and he wants to get out there and go.”
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said Gladney “has tremendous upside.”
Minnesota picked Gladney at No. 31 after trading back from No. 25 with San Francisco. The Vikings acquired a fourth-round pick (No. 117) and a fifth-rounder (No. 176) from the 49ers.
Gladney, a senior out of TCU, stands at 5-foot-10 and weighs in at 191 pounds. He started 10 of 12 games in 2019, totaling 31 tackles (24 solo), one interception and 1.5 tackles for loss. His 14 passes defensed led the conference.
While Gladney is a shorter cornerback, he was described by NFL draft analyst Charles Davis as playing with “great aggressiveness and intelligence.”
The Athletic’s Dane Brugler tabbed Gladney, the fifth overall cornerback picked Thursday, as the third-best cornerback in this year’s class.
Zimmer has been known to excel at working with cornerbacks who are under 6-foot, such as former Cowboys, Bengals and Vikings defensive back Terence Newman.
“Gladney reminds me of a lot of guys who have played similarly for me in the past,” Zimmer said. “Very good acceleration … tough, competitive kid … wants to challenge receivers and good in and out of the breaks.
“Long arms … I know he’s a shorter guy, but he makes up for it with his toughness and his length,” Zimmer added.
“There are specific traits you have to have to play corner in this defense,” Spielman said. “Gladney fit every single trait we were looking for from a physical standpoint.”
Gladney said his height isn’t a factor on the field and that he brings a feisty attitude each and every game.
“I play very physical,” Gladney said. “It doesn’t matter what size opponent I’m playing, I’m going to bring the physicality to him and see if he wants it, or if he doesn’t.”
Gladney filled a position of need for the Vikings, especially after Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander signed with Cincinnati in free agency. Minnesota also terminated the contract of Xavier Rhodes, who opted to sign with Indianapolis. Mike Hughes, a 2018 first-round draft pick, leads Minnesota’s cornerback group in seniority.
“We knew we needed some corner depth, but it was more about it being the right price when we got the guys,” Zimmer said. “We didn’t want to reach for a player.”
ESPN draft analyst Louis Riddick was a fan of Gladney landing with the Vikings.
“This is another guy who has a lot of upside, a lot of potential, a lot of speed,” Riddick said. “He just needs to develop his ability to finish on the football the last third of the down. … You have a good athlete that really just needs some more coaching, some more refinement, but that’s exactly what you’re going to find at this point in the draft.”
Gladney is the first TCU player to be drafted by the Vikings in the first round in franchise history.
The Vikings are scheduled to have three picks on Day 2 of the 2020 draft — a second-rounder at No. 58, plus No. 89 and No. 105 in the third round.