Vikings designate star wide receiver Justin Jefferson for return from injured reserve

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings designated wide receiver Justin Jefferson for return from injured reserve Wednesday, bringing the 2022 NFL Offensive Player of the Year back to practice with three weeks to assess the readiness of his strained right hamstring for game action.

The Vikings aren't in a rush.

Jefferson's four-week minimum on IR ended after the Vikings beat Atlanta to improve to 4-0 without their superstar pass-catcher. Putting Jefferson on the field Sunday when Minnesota hosts New Orleans would be a bold move, considering the risk of reinjury to a vital muscle and his value to the team.

“I think that would probably be a little aggressive,” coach Kevin O'Connell said. “I think he feels really good. I know we all feel good about where he’s at. But we’re going to take it a day at a time and ultimately do what’s best for Justin and his long-term future here with us.”

The Vikings could keep Jefferson out for three more games and wait until after their Week 13 bye to activate him. They have a 21-day window in which to do so, or else he would be ineligible to play again this season. Minnesota visits Denver on Nov. 19 and hosts Chicago on Nov. 27. O'Connell declined to tip his hand about one of those games as a realistic target.

“We can just kind of build it up little by little,” he said. “I do think Justin is on a good timeline, considering the outlook on this thing when we first kind of had this happen.”

Jefferson was hurt on Oct. 8 while running a route in the fourth quarter of a loss to Kansas City, when he slipped on the U.S. Bank Stadium turf as he was trying to make a cut for a third-down pass from Kirk Cousins. Jefferson had never missed a game until then in his decorated four-year career.

The Vikings also placed running back Cam Akers on injured reserve Wednesday after he tore his left Achilles tendon in the game against the Falcons. They signed former University of Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan for a second stint on their practice squad to add a healthy arm with Cousins (Achilles) done for the season and backups Jaren Hall (concussion) and Nick Mullens (back) also sidelined. Joshua Dobbs will start against the Saints, and practice squad member Sean Mannion is the only other healthy quarterback.

Wide receiver K.J. Osborn (concussion) remained out Wednesday. Tight end T.J. Hockenson (ribs) and left tackle Christian Darrisaw (groin) were listed as limited participants.

Mullens is eligible to come off IR, but O'Connell wasn't ready to declare him available. After Hall was hurt against the Falcons and Dobbs entered five days after he was acquired in a trade with Arizona, Akers would have been the emergency quarterback. Now he's out.

“Out of an effort to always be prepared, we will probably have multiple guys this week," O'Connell said. "I am not going to say we are going to have tryouts by any stretch. But we are definitely going to make sure we have a couple guys ready to go.”