After not missing a single game over his first three seasons in the NFL, Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson has missed the team’s last four contests. The 24-year-old was placed on injured reserve back in mid-October while dealing with a hamstring injury, but after sitting out the four games required before returning from IR, Jefferson is still unlikely to return for the Vikings’ matchup with the Saints this weekend, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.
Early on in Jefferson’s absence, Minnesota felt confident in his ability to return to the field quickly. Certain reports hinted that the team was not expecting Jefferson to require more than the four-week minimum requirement that a player must remain on IR before being activated back to the active roster.
While head coach Kevin O’Connell did acknowledge that the injury was “significant,” the Vikings certainly didn’t determine the ailment to be season-ending. Still, hamstring issues can linger persistently and naggingly, as we saw last year with both Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen and former Raiders tight end Darren Waller, who each missed at least seven games in 2022.
O’Connell did recently say that “it’s possible” the Vikings open up Jefferson’s 21-day practice window on Wednesday, per ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, but the second-year head coach cautioned that the team is weary of doing anything that may set him back in his recovery. There are likely some steps that need to be taken in order for that designation to be made. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the team is uncertain about his status and unable to make a decision on how to handle the young wideout because Jefferson still needs to meet with doctors.
So, while the Vikings could designate Jefferson to return from IR, opening his 21-day practice window to come off the injured list, if they make the designation too soon and Jefferson experiences a setback that keeps him from coming back to the active roster, they risk losing Jefferson for the remainder of the year. The team will need to gather all the possible information to make sure that bringing him back to practice this week is the best decision for both parties, regardless of his current eligibility.
In the meantime, Minnesota will continue to spread the ball around in order to account for Jefferson’s absence. Since he was placed on IR, the Vikings are 4-0, including a back-and-forth win without quarterback Kirk Cousins last week. In the first three games without Jefferson, Minnesota had a different leading receiver in every contest as rookie Jordan Addison, K.J. Osborn, and tight end T.J. Hockenson all stepped up their contributions.
With Cousins out for the remainder of the year with a torn Achilles tendon, the continued ball distribution will be up to newly acquired quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who was forced to step in and lead his new team to victory when interim starting quarterback Jaren Hall went down with a concussion. Regardless, he’ll be doing it without Jefferson for at least another week.