Zulgad: MVP voters shouldn’t pass on Vikings’ Justin Jefferson just because hes a wide receiver

The Associated Press has named an NFL MVP since 1957, and because the NFL doesn’t have its own MVP honor, this is the one that’s considered the most prestigious when it comes to recognizing the best regular-season performer.

The night before the Super Bowl the award — which is voted on by a panel of 50 sportswriters — will be given out for the 66th time. There have been co-MVPs on two occasions so that makes it 67 winners. This includes 18 running backs, a defensive tackle (the Vikings’ Alan Page in 1971), a linebacker (the Giants’ Lawrence Taylor in 1986) and, believe it or not, Washington kicker Mark Moseley in 1982.

The other 46 MVPs were all quarterbacks. The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers  is coming off back-to-back MVP seasons and quarterbacks have won the past nine times. The Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes is the current favorite. The last time a non-QB won was  in 2012 after the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards.

Amazingly, a wide receiver never has been recognized as MVP. Not Jerry Rice, not Larry Fitzgerald, not Randy Moss and not Cooper Kupp, who did receive one vote last season after leading the NFL with 145 receptions for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns. It was one of the best seasons ever by a wide receiver, earned him AP Offensive Player of the Year award, and he got one stinking MVP vote. (There will be changes in how the AP does the MVP voting this year.)

The acceptance that wide receivers, more important than ever in today’s game, should simply be happy with being named Offensive Player of the Year is preposterous. It will be even more asinine if the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson and Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill aren’t given serious consideration this year. Hill leads the NFL in receptions (87) and yards (1,233) and is tied with Jefferson for the league lead in catches for more than 20 yards (21).

Jefferson is 1 yard behind Hill and is third in the league 81 receptions. Vikings followers don’t get to see Hill on a regular basis, but watching Jefferson has provided an appreciation for him. Jefferson provides a highlight-reel catch or two each week — a one-handed grab in Buffalo, at least two ridiculous receptions last Thursday against New England — and continues to put his name in the NFL record book for a wide receiver in his third season.

Kirk Cousins has been very good this season, and his ability to lead fourth quarter comebacks is a far more important than the fact his overall stats are down. Cousins can put a football where many can’t.

But Jefferson is the Vikings’ best player and without him this team isn’t sitting at 9-2 and on the verge of clinching the NFC North. There is no victory at Buffalo without Jefferson and there is no fourth quarter touchdown pass to Adam Thielen to win the game against New England. (Why? Because Jefferson’s incredible 36 yard reception set up the touchdown, and the fact the Patriots put so much coverage on Jefferson resulted in the touchdown.)

What the Vikings seem to have figured out is that Jefferson is never truly covered and failing him to throw the ball because of concern about coverage is making life too easy on opponents. Kevin O’Connell likely knew this the day he took the Vikings’ job, but Cousins, until this season, was reluctant to routinely make the dangerous throw.

What O’Connell, Cousins and Jefferson now all seem to understand is that Cousins has the arm talent to make that throw and Jefferson, more often than not, will catch it. It’s not always going to work — Cousins’ nine interceptions this season are two more than he had all of last year — but when it’s worth the risk because the reward is so often great.

It’s those memorable plays that make Jefferson an MVP candidate who shouldn’t be ignored because he plays the wrong position in the minds of voters. One has to wonder how Stefon Diggs feels watching this from Buffalo. This is exactly what Diggs wanted when he was with the Vikings. Diggs eventually forced his way out, not because of Cousins, but because he was treated as an outstanding player but not a superstar.

Far too often, Diggs and Adam Thielen were lumped together as a 1A and 1B. Thielen is an excellent receiver and at his best was very good. But he never possessed the overall talent of Diggs, and the passes that now go to Jefferson likely should have been thrown Diggs’ way. Instead, the Vikings’ risk-averse, run-first philosophy stayed away from dangerous throws.

Diggs has done just fine with Josh Allen as his quarterback. Diggs is second in the league with 84 receptions for 1,110 yards and has caught nine touchdowns. Diggs’ dissatisfaction in Minnesota worked out for everyone.

His trade to Buffalo landed the Vikings the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2020 draft, and former general manager Rick Spielman turned that into Jefferson. He has now turned into a superstar who might be the NFL’s best wide receiver at the age of 23.

Could this success land Jefferson an MVP trophy to add to his resume? History says no but it’s hard to dismiss the possibility with a guy who seems determined to make the impossible seem routine each time he sets foot on the field.

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Story originally appeared on Vikings Wire