The moment that changed the Vikings: When Eagles passed on Justin Jefferson in 2020 draft

Everyone assumed Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman was going to take Jefferson on draft night.

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson hits the turf after picking up a first down against Green Bay Packers defensive back Chandon Sullivan in the third quarter of an NFL game in this 2021 file photo at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
John Autey / Pioneer Press
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MINNEAPOLIS -- In the opening round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings were sitting at No. 22, anxiously waiting for the Philadelphia Eagles to make their pick to see who would still be on the board.

Because of the pandemic, former Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, former Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and various members of the front office had to conduct business via Zoom. Every one of them assumed Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was going to go with a receiver with the No. 21 pick.

“All right, the pick is in and we’re on the clock,” former Vikings manager of player personnel Kelly Kleine can be heard saying in a clip that has since gone viral on social media. “Jalen Reagor, wide receiver, TCU, to the Eagles.”

The reaction from the Vikings was priceless.

Whether it was Spielman literally laughing out loud, or Zimmer removing his glasses — partially in disbelief, partially in celebration — the Vikings were over the moon that the Eagles had just passed on who they felt was a generational talent.


Justin Jefferson

“Let’s go get him,” Spielman can be heard saying with a huge smile on his face. “Get Justin Jefferson on the clock right now. Wow.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

In the span of two years, Jefferson has completely changed the trajectory of the Vikings. He put together the best start of any receiver in NFL history, compiling 196 receptions for 3,016 yards and 17 touchdowns through two seasons in the league.

On the flip side, not only did Reagor underwhelm during his time with the Eagles, he was constantly being compared to Jefferson at every turn. In a weird twist of fate, the Vikings acquired Reagor from the Eagles last month.

Asked if it weighs on him being known as the player who went in the pick before Jefferson in the draft, Reagor noted how the rest of the story is still unwritten for him. Just because it’s taking Reagor a little bit longer to reach his full potential doesn’t mean he can’t get there at some point.

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Meanwhile, it’s safe to say no one truly knows what Jefferson’s full potential is at this point. He currently is on pace to rank among the best receivers in NFL history, and his 9-catch, 184-yard performance against the rival Green Bay Packers last weekend serves as yet another reminder of that.

He has unlocked another dimension for the Vikings with his unbelievable skill set. Plus, current coach Kevin O’Connell already has proven more capable of maximizing Jefferson’s talents in a way Zimmer never figured out.

As for his memories of the 2020 NFL Draft, Jefferson admitted this week that he fully expected to go to the Eagles in the opening round. Why would he think anything else? Almost every mock draft had him going there.


“Just getting a phone call and it being Minnesota was definitely a shocker,” Jefferson said. “I’m definitely happy — way more happy — to be here than there.”

Though the wound of passing on Jefferson is still fresh for most Eagles fans, naturally, the Vikings are hoping to rub some salt in it on Monday Night Football.

“I’ve heard about their fans and heard about their atmosphere,” Jefferson said. “Those are the best wins, when their stands are quiet, and their fans are leaving the stadium early. I love these away games. I live for those type of moments. I’m definitely excited for it.”


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