The Minnesota Vikings made their final move for Justin Jefferson‘s return, activating the superstar wide receiver to the active roster by waiving former first-round pick N’Keal Harry on Tuesday, November 28.
Harry’s waiver from the 53-man roster opened up a spot for Jefferson, who returns from a seven-week stint on injured reserve. Quarterback Sean Mannion was also released from the team’s practice squad with Josh Dobbs, Nick Mullens and Jaren Hall all healthy entering Minnesota’s Week 13 bye.
The 32nd overall pick in the 2019 draft by the New England Patriots, Harry shined during the Vikings’ preseason and became a darkhorse candidate to earn a roster spot despite a loaded wide receivers room.
His preseason was derailed by a lower-body injury that led to his release. Harry was re-signed on September 5, providing Minnesota some relief primarily as a run-blocker with his 6-foot-4 frame. Harry appeared in nine games, logging 23 offensive snaps but did not see a single target.
Jefferson’s expected Week 14 return comes at an ideal time for the Vikings (6-6), who look to build upon their 58% chance of making the playoffs (according to ESPN) after suffering consecutive losses for the first time since Week 3.
Kevin O’Connell Says Vikings Will Start QB Who Maximizes Justin Jefferson
After Kirk Cousins suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, Minnesota’s quarterback problems appeared solved when Dobbs arrived at the trade deadline and led the team to a pair of wins to extend a five-game winning streak.
But after Dobbs threw four interceptions in a 12-10 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday, November 27, everything is on the table with five games left in the season.
That includes handing the starting job to Mullens, who was on injured reserve at the time of the Dobbs trade, or Hall, who is back from concussion protocol. All three quarterbacks were in uniform on Monday, and O’Connell admitted he had some thoughts of pulling Dobbs amid his struggles.
“It started to get to a point in the game where I was just trying to think almost [about] what would give us a spark,” O’Connell said in a postgame news conference, per the Star Tribune.
With a night’s sleep, O’Connell got that spark with Jefferson cleared to return to the active roster. O’Connell said that whichever quarterback can maximize Jefferson will be the one who gets the start Week 14 against the Las Vegas Raiders.
“Justin’s role in our offense, really from Day 1 since we arrived here, has always been very, very significant,” O’Connell said on November 28, per ESPN. “Anytime you can infuse the best receiver in football back into your offense, there’s going to be ways to not only get Justin going and make sure he has a critical impact on the football game … [and] the quarterback position absolutely plays into that.
“We’re going to make sure that whoever is playing quarterback is aware and understands the intent behind plays where either Justin is the primary [target], or based upon coverage, based upon the defensive look, how to quickly and efficiently get to the right place to go with the football. In the end that’s what the NFL passing game is about: rhythm, timing, understanding that the defense can and will take some things away, but progressing in rhythm.”
Vikings Playoff Berth Hinges on NFC North Win
The final five games of the season will define the Vikings’ season as Minnesota is back at .500 entering the bye week.
The next two games are out-of-conference against the Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals, who are both playing backup quarterbacks. Chalking both those games up as victories, the Vikings need just one NFC North win to position themselves firmly in the playoffs.
The Upshot’s NFL playoff simulator has Minnesota with at least an 82% chance of making the playoffs if they can pickup wins over Cincinnati, Las Vegas and one division opponent.
The Week 17 matchup with the Packers (5-6) will have much more swing considering both teams are vying for a wild-card spot.
Meanwhile, the Lions (8-3) are firmly in the driver’s seat for their first division title in 21 years. A Vikings sweep of Detroit would be vital to Minnesota stealing the division crown.