Vikings Snap Counts: Rookie Jefferson flashes star potential

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Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a new playmaker in town.

Minnesota Vikings rookie Justin Jefferson, the 22nd overall pick this spring, was unleashed against Tennessee on Sunday. In a season which hasn’t provided much optimism on either side of the ball for the Vikings, Jefferson’s career day was refreshing.

While playing in a career-high 51 snaps, Jefferson was targeted a game-high nine times against the Titans and turned it into seven catches for 175 yards and one touchdown — a 71-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter for his first career score.

The LSU product became the fourth Vikings rookie to register 170+ receiving yards in a single game, joining Paul Flatley (1963), Sammy White (1976) and Randy Moss (1998). Jefferson now leads all rookie wideouts with 245 receiving yards.

His explosion wasn’t the only big change Minnesota saw at the wide receiver position, however.

Adam Thielen’s playing time was consistent, as he led wide receivers by appearing in 61 of the Vikings’ 65 offensive snaps (94%). Jefferson was next (78%). But it was Chad Beebe — not Olabisi Johnson — who emerged as the Vikings’ No. 3 receiver. Beebe was on the field for 22 of Minnesota’s 65 offensive snaps (34%), compared to just five total snaps (8%) for Johnson.

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Johnson had played 63% of the snaps in Week 1 and 78% in Week 2.

According to ESPN’s Mike Clay, Jefferson ran 20 of his 26 routes from the outside against Tennessee, rather than from the slot like he did most often over the first two weeks. That decreased the need for Johnson on the field and opened up the slot position for Beebe.

Tight end Tyler Conklin played twice as many snaps as Johnson, who was not targeted. Beebe caught his only target for a seven-yard gain.

With the production and explosiveness Jefferson displayed Sunday, it’s safe to assume the rookie will stay on the outside, meaning Beebe should continue to see the field.

Other notes from Sunday’s snap counts:

— Five defenders played all 75 snaps against the Titans: linebackers Eric Wilson and Eric Kendricks, safeties Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith and cornerback Holton Hill.

— For the second consecutive week, Yannick Ngakoue got to the quarterback for a sack. The newcomer played 59 snaps (79%), his most playing time this season.

— Hardy Nickerson Jr. made his Vikings debut, playing in 36 snaps (48%). He tallied one tackle. His father, Hardy Nickerson, spent eight season s of his 16-year NFL career in the old NFC Central division playing for Tampa Bay and Green Bay.

— With cornerbacks Mike Hughes and Cameron Dantzler both inactive, the Vikings turned to Holton Hill, Jeff Gladney and Kris Boyd to handle the pass coverage duties. Gladney logged his first career pass defensed while playing in a career-high 97% of the snaps. Boyd played 51% of the snaps and registered two tackles.