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Vikings WR Justin Jefferson named AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year

As a rookie, Justin Jefferson set the post-merger NFL record for receiving yards by a first-year player with 1,400. In Year 2, he came up 16 yards shy of Randy Moss' Vikings single-season receiving record of 1,632. And in his third NFL season, Jefferson smashed that mark -- by nearly 200 yards.

Could a 2K season be that far off? What else is he capable of?

Nothing is off the table now for Jefferson, who collected The Associated Press 2022 NFL Offensive Player of the Year award on Thursday at NFL Honors. After all, this is a young man who has yet to turn 24 years old and he's just 610 yards away from passing Pro Football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann on the all-time list for receiving yards.

Jefferson netted 35 first-place votes and 192 total points to earn OPOY over runner-up and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes garnered 10 first-place votes and finished with 75 points. Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts came in third with 52 points, including three first-place votes. Miami Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill got one first-place vote, finishing fourth. Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen received the other first-place vote and ended up eighth.

Jefferson caught 128 passes (seventh-most in a season ever) for 1,809 yards (sixth-most in league history) and eight touchdowns in 2022. Just for good measure, he also caught a two-point conversion, rushed four times for 24 yards and a TD and completed both of his pass attempts for 34 yards, leading the Vikings to a five-win improvement under first-year head coach Kevin O'Connell and the franchise's first playoff appearance since 2019.

It was one of the best seasons in NFL history by a wide receiver.

"I told (Jefferson) it's a pleasure and honor to coach a player like that, that can show up in those biggest moments," Minnesota coach Kevin O'Connell said after Jefferson broke Moss' team receiving mark during dramatic win over the Giants on Dec. 24.

Jefferson also broke Cris Carter's club receptions mark for a season in the same game. He was at the center of that victory, with 11 catches for 128 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown. His 16- and 17-yard catches in the final 77 seconds helped set up the Vikings' game-winning field goal.

The AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year has gone to wide receivers in three of the past four seasons, with the New Orleans Saints' Michael Thomas winning in 2019 and the Los Angeles Rams' Cooper Kupp taking home the honor last season.

All this early-career production means one thing: The Vikings will need to pay Jefferson handsomely soon, as he's eligible for a long-term extension this offseason. It could end up being one of the richest contracts ever given to a wide receiver.

But the way the Vikings' brass talks publicly about Jefferson, they appear to be more than willing to do so when the time comes.

"I wouldn't use the word challenge," Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said at his season-ending news conference of getting a deal done with Jefferson. "You've got a special player, a special person. Those aren't problems. Or at least those are champagne problems."

Jefferson was asked about his place with the Vikings following their playoff loss at the hands of those same Giants during Super Wild Card Weekend. Amid his disappointment following a loss in which Jefferson was routinely double-teamed and held to seven catches for only 47 yards, he tried to look to his very bright future as solace.

"At this moment, I am just happy to be on this team," Jefferson said. "I am happy to do what I have been doing this whole year. My job is to find more ways to beat the double teams or triple teams. It is definitely going to be tough to reflect back on this type of season and it ending so soon."

Before he or his opponents know it, Jefferson likely will be setting his sights for even loftier heights in 2023. If that's even possible.

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