New Arizona Cardinals wide receiver coach Shawn Jefferson has a pretty good grasp on how to coach generational talents.
In his first stop as an NFL coach, Jefferson was tasked with working with Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson.
A year after joining the Lions as an offensive assistant, Jefferson was promoted to WR coach in 2008. He would spend five seasons with Johnson.
The production speaks for itself.
Johnson was an absolute force, catching 440 balls for 7,080 yards and 50 touchdowns. He set career marks in 2012 in yards (1,964) and catches (122). Johnson was selected to three Pro Bowls and named a First Team All-Pro twice under Jefferson.
The wide receiver wanted to take that next step and Jefferson was there to push him.
“It was a challenge. A guy with that kind of skillset, every day in practice you’d have to find a way to challenge him,” Jefferson said Tuesday via Zoom. “It was just a joy to watch how this kid worked, to watch how he handled himself on and off the field, his dedication to his craft.
“It was a blessing for me to coach him. He came in the first day and said he wanted to be great, and everything about his actions after that showed that he wanted to be great. I’m not surprised that he’s finally found his way into the Hall of Fame.”
Since his time in Detroit, Jefferson has worked with the likes of DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry and Jamison Crowder. None, however, ranked up there with Johnson’s god-like abilities.
That was until Jefferson signed the dotted line with Cardinals this offseason, setting himself up to work with DeAndre Hopkins and the rest of the Cardinals wideouts. Using that experience of working with Johnson, Jefferson appears ready for the new challenge.
“DeAndre is a phenomenal talent and right now, to be honest with you, he’s probably the only one in the league that I can compare to Calvin Johnson right now,” Jefferson said. “He has kind of the skillset that Calvin had playing above the rim and in those competitive situations just finding a way to come down with balls.
“I think the good Lord carries us sometimes to some places to prepare us for the job at hand. I think me coaching Calvin when I first got into the league for all those number of years kinda helped me bridge the gap along with DeAndre Hopkins. He’s a generational talent and I look forward to working with him.”
Hopkins enters his second second with the Cardinals after registering 115 receptions for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns. He was third among NFL pass catchers in yards and tied Green Bay Packers Davante Adams for second in receptions.
There were also some head-scratching moments, as Hopkins was cemented on one side of the field at times and wasn’t being properly utilized in moments where he was needed. And then there’s the fact that Hopkins sat out of practices with regularity, limiting his time on the field in his first season growing with Kyler Murray.
“That’s the first I’m hearing it,” Jefferson said when asked about Hopkins’ missed practices last season. “I wasn’t here last year so I don’t know. To be honest with you, in fairness, I can’t answer that question. All I can tell you is this, going forward I look forward to working with DeAndre Hopkins and this receiving group. … I think if we’re better at the receiver position I think that helps our team.”
Hopkins has been in the league long enough to know what works best for him. It’ll be on Jefferson to use his creativity and intensity to unlock another level of the All-Pro.