LSU WR Justin Jefferson excited to join Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings chose LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson with the 22nd pick in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night and traded down to take TCU cornerback Jeff Gladney, filling two significant needs.

The first pick came from Buffalo as part of the trade made last month that sent restless wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Bills and netted the Vikings three extra selections. They wasted no time trying to find a replacement with Jefferson, who was the fifth wide receiver to come off the board in an especially deep class at the position.

Click the video box on this page to watch Justin Jefferson’s post-draft video conference

Jefferson, a late bloomer who played primarily in the slot while helping Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow win the Heisman Trophy for the national champions, set the program record with 111 receptions as a junior that led all FBS players in 2019. Jefferson will join Adam Thielen and Tajaé Sharpe as the top down-field options for quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Thielen’s most natural spot is also in the slot, but he’s a versatile route runner, just as Jefferson proved to be in college. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound native of Destrehan, Louisiana, amassed 1,540 receiving yards with 18 touchdowns in 15 games last season, rarely dropping a pass. He was clocked in the 40-yard dash at the combine in 4.43 seconds.

Jefferson played more on the outside in 2018.

“That’s just something that I have to prove going to Minnesota, that I can be that inside and outside wide receiver,” Jefferson said in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio. “Minnesota, I’m ready for you guys, and let’s go win that Super Bowl.”

The 5-foot-10, 191-pound Gladney is the type of quick, fierce cornerback that coach Mike Zimmer has long coveted for his defense. Gladney led the Big 12 with 14 pass breakups last year. He’s the second cornerback picked by the Vikings in the first round in three years, along with Mike Hughes (2018).

The Vikings sent the 25th selection to San Francisco and moved down six spots to No. 31 for Gladney while gaining additional picks in the fourth and fifth round from the 49ers.

They have 12 selections over the final two days of the draft, though more trading is all but certain.

The last time the Vikings made multiple picks in the first round was 2014, their first draft under Zimmer when linebacker Anthony Barr was selected No. 9 and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was taken at No. 32.

This will be a pivotal draft for Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman, both of whom have entered the final year of their contract and yet to receive an extension. The Vikings have made the playoffs three of the last five seasons, but the 2017 team that reached the NFC championship game has so far been the pinnacle.

The virus outbreak that shuttered all NFL facilities forced team officials to sequester in their homes for this most unusual draft, with Spielman directing the show from his study in the Twin Cities area and Zimmer logged in from his ranch home in Kentucky. The all-virtual nature of spring practices will likely make the transition process for rookies this year a rockier one, but the reality of the roster will force the Vikings to lean on at least a few of them at key positions.

Five spots in the most common defensive lineup opened through expired contracts and cap-savings cuts, including cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander.

The replacement process started with the signing of former Baltimore nose tackle Michael Pierce to fill in for Linval Joseph. Defensive end Everson Griffen has also departed. The Vikings haven’t drafted a defensive end in the first round since Erasmus James in 2005.

This is the 10th draft for Spielman with full authority over the roster. The last time he used the first round pick to take a wide receiver was 2016, when Laquon Treadwell landed at No. 23 out of Mississippi. He was a major bust, with just 701 yards and two touchdowns over four seasons.