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What would Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen have to do to match the production of Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell?

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The Jacksonville Jaguars are on the clock. Man, does it feel good to say that!


Keenan McCardell will always hold a special place in my heart. He was thunder. Jimmy Smith was lightning. And they were the best pass-catching duo in the league in those early glory days.

For the six-year period between 1996 and 2001, the two receivers combined for...

14,365 yards

1,061 catches

13.5 yards per catch

71 touchdowns

In an average season, the two rattled off production unheard of among Jaguars receivers lately—Smith and McCardell accounted for nearly 2,400 yards, 176 catches, and 12 touchdowns a year.

That’s six seasons straight of putting half the offensive production on their backs.

So when McCardell said that Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen could be the next Thunder & Lightning, it made my ears perk up. They certainly fill the two templates carved out by the originals—Jefferson is to Smith’s lightning as Thielen is to McCardell’s thunder—but could they come close to that sort of production?

In their first season together, in an offense that passes the ball a little more than average and has slightly better than average quarterback play (much like the Jaguars of the late 1990’s under Mark Brunell), let’s see how the two Vikings receivers compared as a duo to Smith and McCardell’s average season:

Smith and McCardell: 2,394 yards, 177 catches, 12 touchdowns

Jefferson and Thielen: 2,325 yards, 162 catches, 21 touchdowns

So... yeah.

If Jefferson and Thielen are able to keep this up for the next five years, they’ll surpass the likes of Thunder & Lightning, due in large part to a lot more touchdowns. Tom Coughlin loved running the ball at the goal line—James Stewart and Fred Taylor combined for 19.5 touchdowns per year in the two seasons they were together. Dalvin Cook is just below that averaging 15.0 touchdowns per year each of the last two seasons.

But the biggest difference is that Brunell was in his prime during that six-year period. Kirk Cousins, while still a productive quarterback, is going into his 10th season this year. He’ll be 33 years old before the season opener and his contract runs up after the 2022 season. There will be a change at quarterback before Jefferson and Thielen suit up for their sixth season together, if it happens.

But, hey, go light it up. I’ll keep finding Thielen in the middle rounds of my fantasy draft and winning the championship year after year.