The Vikings played it safe with Justin Jefferson, placing him in the IR-return window for the full three weeks. But the superstar wide receiver will be back once Minnesota returns from its Week 13 bye.
Jefferson is officially off IR, the team announced. While the team needed to activate Jefferson by Wednesday to avoid him landing on season-ending IR, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport indicates he will play in Week 14. This will obviously provide a significant boost for a Vikings team that has encountered some obstacles over the past two weeks. Tuesday’s move leaves the Vikings with four IR activations remaining.
Suffering a hamstring injury in Week 5, Jefferson resumed practicing when first eligible. That represented a good sign, as many players who have returned to practice while on IR have been activated days later this season. That was never expected with Jefferson, given his importance to the team and his contract status.
Minnesota has slow-played the fourth-year wideout’s return, holding him out of games against the Saints, Broncos and Bears. It is certainly possible Jefferson would have the Vikings at 8-4 rather than 6-6, but Kirk Cousins‘ Achilles tear has limited the team as well. Considering how a hamstring setback could affect Jefferson’s chances of returning at all this season, it was not too surprising the Vikings’ top player said he would not return until he was 100%.
Jefferson had resumed sprinting in practice, providing a sign he was close. Logging limited practices ahead of Week 12, the All-Pro talent is on track to be full go in Week 14. With the Vikings in a bye week, Jefferson has an additional stretch to prepare for a return. Minnesota will face Las Vegas in Week 14.
The Vikings may be making another quarterback change between now and then, after seeing trade acquisition Josh Dobbs throw four interceptions in an ugly home loss to the Bears. Dobbs generated praise for his post-trade play, but he has struggled in Minnesota’s past two losses. The Vikings recently activated Nick Mullens from IR and have fifth-round rookie Jaren Hall recovered from the concussion he suffered earlier this month — an injury that brought in Dobbs.
Whichever QB the Vikings choose will have the opportunity target a high-end pass-catching corps. Fresh off an extension, T.J. Hockenson leads all tight ends with 786 receiving yards. Jordan Addison has shown early promise, stepping into the Jefferson role as the Vikes’ top wide receiver for much of this season. The first-round pick has 686 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Even in five games, Jefferson amassed 571 yards. Jefferson’s 4,825 receiving yards through three seasons shattered an NFL record. While Jefferson has only finished four games in Year 4, only Michael Thomas has more yards through four years than Jefferson. And the former Saints All-Pro has just a 116-yard lead here.
While Jefferson’s contract situation looms as the big-picture issue here, he ruled out the possibility of sitting out for the season’s remainder due to his rookie-deal status. After agreeing to terms with Hockenson on a tight end-record deal, the Vikings should be expected to break the WR AAV record — perhaps by a wide margin — for Jefferson in 2024. For now, however, Minnesota remains alive in an NFC playoff race once again on track to produce an unremarkable No. 7 seed. Since the NFL expanded to seven playoff teams per conference in 2020, the NFC has sent 8-8 or 9-8 teams (Bears, Eagles, Seahawks) to the postseason as 7 seeds.