The Justin Jefferson effect on Giants rookie Malik Nabers

The most advanced navigation system is not needed to find somewhere over the rainbow for Malik Nabers.

A possible destination was revealed this week, when Justin Jefferson signed the biggest contract for a wide receiver in NFL history. Until, that is, the next massive contract is awarded to the next star pass-catcher.

Could Nabers eventually enter into this conversation?

Whoa, hold on there. Can we let the 20-year old Giants rookie actually step on the field and play an NFL game before speculating about his future stardom and the riches that comes with it?

Of course, this is premature, and anyone in Nabers’ circle would be advised to keep this thinking far from his thoughts as he continues to participate this week in another round of organized team activity practices.

It was only a few months back when the Giants made him the No. 6 overall pick in the 2024 draft after a sterling career at LSU. Back in 2020, the Vikings selected Jefferson out of LSU at No. 22 overall, and at the time, predicting he would break the bank was more a hope than a plan in Minneapolis.

To earn the money, Jefferson amassed 392 receptions for 5,899 yards and 30 touchdowns in four years. In 2022, he finished fifth in the league in MVP voting after catching an NFL-high 128 passes for 1,809 yards. He is only 24 years old, and on Monday, the Vikings secured his services for another four years with a deal worth $140 million.

The $110 million in guaranteed money is a record for a wide receiver, as is Jefferson’s average of $35 million per year, moving ahead of the Eagles’ A.J. Brown ($32 million average), the Lions’ Amon-Ra St. Brown ($30.002 million) and the Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill ($30 million) and Jaylen Waddle ($28.85 million). The Raiders’ Davante Adams ($28 million), the Rams’ Cooper Kupp ($26.7 million) and the Eagles’ DeVonta Smith ($25 million) aren’t far behind.

Justin Jefferson’s new $140 million contract is likely to become a benchmark against which other top receivers negotiate deals. Getty Images

Next in line to challenge Jefferson’s wide receiver benchmarks are CeeDee Lamb (Cowboys) and Ja’Marr Chase (Bengals). Seeing Jefferson cash in will no doubt delight Lamb, Chase and their representation. A rising tide lifts all boats and a rising salary scale lifts all players. Lamb and Chase do not yet have strong cases for making more money than Jefferson, but that does not mean they will not try.

“From the moment I arrived in Minnesota, Justin has consistently proven to be one of the best players in the NFL on and off the field,’’ Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said on the day Jefferson’s megadeal was announced, “and we are excited about having him as a cornerstone of our team for a long time to come. He is the living embodiment of our culture with his joyful dedication to process and our goals.’’

Will Giants general manager Joe Schoen be heaping praise and expressing similar sentiments four years from now in response to heralding a new Nabers contract?

In his final season at LSU, Nabers caught 89 passes for 1,569 yards and 14 touchdowns. Jefferson, in his last year at LSU, caught 111 passes for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns. Jefferson, at 6-foot-1, is (slightly) taller, and both players are around 200 pounds. Both possess great speed and breakaway after-the-catch ability.

After catching 89 passes for 1,569 yards last season for LSU, Malik Nabers was drafted No. 6 overall by the Giants. Getty Images

“He’s got all the tools,’’ Giants wide receivers coach Mike Groh said of Nabers. “I think they say in baseball ‘five-tool player.’ He’s got the ability to win in the short game, the intermediate game and long. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands, he can play inside and outside. We’re excited about the things we’ll be able to do with him, in combination with the guys we have.’’

The Giants believe Nabers has a vibrant competitive streak that will prompt him to seek achievement at the highest levels. Jefferson is a special performer, though, and Nabers, with all his promise, is a rookie and has to prove so much for his name to even be worthy of inclusion into a discussion of the NFL’s top targets.

The Giants were down this road not too long ago. In late Aug. 2018, the former front office regime gave Odell Beckham Jr. a five-year extension worth $90 million, making him the highest-paid wide receiver in the league. Beckham’s $65 million in total guarantees and $41 million at signing were the most ever for a receiver. Beckham’s $20 million per season in the first three years of the deal surpassed Antonio Brown ($17 million per year average) and the $65 million in total guarantees surpassed Mike Evans’ $55 million.

Beckham, who was on a Hall of Fame trajectory after his first three years with the Giants, played in just four games in 2017 because of repeated ankle injuries and still got paid.

The relationship soured quickly, though, and by March 2019, he was traded to the Browns. Since then, Beckham has spent time with the Rams and Ravens, but has yet to approach the level of excellence he attained early in his career with the Giants. He is currently on a one-year deal with the Dolphins.

Less than a year after signing Odell Beckham Jr. to what was then the biggest wide receiver contract in the NFL, the Giants traded him to Cleveland. Getty Images

Beckham, like Nabers and Jefferson, was a product of LSU, a program once known for developing the best defensive backs in the nation, but nowadays a wide receiver factory. As a rookie, Beckham caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns — despite missing the first four games due to a strained hamstring. Jefferson had 88 receptions for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns in his first NFL season. Chase, another former LSU player, also was sensational as a rookie with 81 receptions for 1,455 yards and 13 TDs.

Perhaps Nabers can follow the lead of his fellow Tigers and make an immediate impression for a Giants offense that is desperate for a breakout star.

“You’re certainly talking about the top one percent of the guys,’’ Groh said. “I think that you can because there’s so much passing that’s done in all levels of the game now, it starts in high school, guys are airing it out on every snap, virtually. Malik has played a lot of college football, two 1,000-yard seasons he had there, caught a lot of footballs in the best competition in college football, in the SEC, for a premier program. Those guys have done very well when they’ve made that transition.

“We’re certainly not trying to put those kinds of expectations on him, but I’m very confident with the player that we have.’’

Nabers has impressed Giants receivers coach Mike Groh, who believes the rookie has “all the tools.” Getty Images

Whether the Giants, with Daniel Jones returning from knee surgery, have the quarterback to make it happen with Nabers remains to be seen.

But that is a discussion for another day.

New voice in the headset

Drew Lock was a 2019 second-round pick out of Missouri, and his arrival in Denver corresponded with Vic Fangio’s first year as the Broncos’ head coach. The combination did not evolve into a productive three-year stay for the player or the coach. The Broncos went 19-30, and Lock was 8-13 in his 21 starts at quarterback.

Lock then moved on to the Seahawks and did not play a single down in 2022. Last season, he went 1-1 as a fill-in starter, playing for Pete Carroll.

In March, Lock signed a one-year deal with the Giants for $5 million to serve as the backup to Jones, unless Jones is not ready to play following reconstructive knee surgery (all indications are Jones will be ready for opening day).

Drew Lock will be playing for an offensively oriented head coach for the first time in his NFL career. Noah K. Murray for the NY Post

Beyond the new uniform he’s wearing, Lock this spring is experiencing something he’s never been exposed to before in his first five NFL seasons.

“First offensive head coach, so that’s been fun,’’ said Lock, who spent his first five NFL years under two former defensive coordinators in Fangio and Carroll.

Brian Daboll rose through the ranks in the NFL as an offensive coach and respected mentor to quarterbacks. Daboll’s work with Josh Allen with the Bills was a factor in the Giants’ decision to hire him in 2022.

Lock’s arrival coincides with what is looking more and more like a significant change to the way the Giants operate on offense.

Daboll entrusted the play-calling duties in 2022 and 2023 to his offensive coordinator, Mike Kafka. The entire operation went sideways last season with the Giants using three different quarterbacks as they tried to navigate multiple injuries and shoddy play on the offensive line.

After taking over play-calling duties late last season, Brian Daboll seems set to keep those responsibilities this year. Noah K. Murray for the NY Post

That prompted Daboll to assume the play-calling duties at times late in the season, and judging from what Daboll has said and done during this year’s OTAs, it seems likely Daboll takes over the play-calling this season on a full-time basis. Daboll has been the play-caller during the spring practices with Kafka off to the side.

“It’s been fun to have him in my headset,’’ Lock said of Daboll. “You can tell he’s been doing it for a long time. Great reminders and good tips, but not too much. Not too much to get you bogged down on what he just said. It’s just good tips and reminders.

“The offense, there’s a lot to it, but it’s been fun to learn, and I can see how you can be really successful in it.’’

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