Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson is taking a major step this week toward returning from injured reserve.
The Vikings announced Jefferson returned to practice Wednesday. The team has 21 days to add him to the active roster.
“He will be acclimated back in through kind of a preset timeline that we’re working through,” head coach Kevin O’Connell said.
“He’s killed his whole rehab and done great things, everything we’ve asked of him, and now we can systematically get him back to a place where we can have him out there with us.”
O’Connell said it would “probably be a little aggressive” to expect Jefferson to play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. The team listed him as limited on Wednesday’s practice report.
Jefferson has missed four games on injured reserve after suffering a hamstring injury late in the Vikings’.
The Vikings went 4-0 in those games, including last weekend’sfor which they were also lacking .
The injury came amidst a 1-4 start for the Vikings, who looked like they were heading for a top pick in the draft just one season after winning 13 games. Their four-game winning streak, though, put them back at 5-4, second in the NFC North and firmly in the playoff race.
Jefferson was third in the league in receiving yards before his injury with 571. As of Wednesday, he still ranks 18th, and his mark for receiving yards per game — 114.2 — trails only the Miami Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill.
Whenever Jefferson returns, he’ll find the Vikings’ offense much different than he left it. Rookie QB Jaren Hall initially took over for Cousins, but after, he was replaced by , who joined the team via trade just last week. Starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw missed last week’s game with a groin injury.
Starting left guard Ezra Cleveland was, with midseason signee Dalton Risner taking his place. Relief running back with a torn Achilles tendon.
It’s not all bad though: rookie wide receiverand tight end T.J. Hockenson both stepped up admirably in Jefferson’s absence. Indeed, Addison is second in the league with seven receiving touchdowns. While Hockenson has been a huge part of the offense since he came to the team via trade last season, Addison’s development is encouraging and he’s likely to remain a major factor going forward.
Jefferson has only played one game as a Viking without Cousins — a 37-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers in which Jefferson had six catches for 58 yards from QB Sean Mannion.
The Vikings’ defense is also much improved. After surrendering 23 points a game through the first five weeks, the defense has given up just 16.5 points per game in the last four. The unit also only had three turnovers through the last four weeks and has had nine during the four-game winning streak.