When the Minnesota Vikings made a trade with the Arizona Cardinals for cornerback A.J. Jefferson, they knew that they were getting a capable coverage man who could quickly fill in across from starter Chris Cook.
The factor that flew under the radar, however, was that Jefferson is also a capable return man who could end up taking a load off of Percy Harvin’s shoulders in 2012.
According to Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier, the team got plenty of what it wanted and more in acquiring Jefferson from the Cardinals.
“We wanted a guy who could play some man coverage, and he’s shown that he has the strength to do that,” Frazier said. “His speed. His athleticism. He’s a good kick return guy as well.”
Throughout his two-year NFL career spent exclusively with the Cardinals, Jefferson has had a number of opportunities to field kickoffs. During the 2011 season, Jefferson returned 14 kicks for 356 yards, including a long of 51 yards. In 2007, during his sophomore year at Fresno State, Jefferson managed a nation-leading 35.8 yards per kickoff return on 26 attempts, including two touchdowns. He regressed during his junior and senior seasons, but still possesses that spark that he displayed early in his college career.
Put simply, Jefferson can be an explosive returner.
“If they want to throw me back there, I did some kick returns,” Jefferson said. “I’m really excited about getting the ball in my hands whenever I can, so if that’s a possibility, I’ll do that, too.”
It’s still unclear as to whether or not Jefferson will know the playbook well enough to be active when the Vikings take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in their season opener on Sunday. Regardless, once he is set to contribute, don’t be surprised to see the talented cornerback fielding kickoffs.