With Justin Jefferson Out, Who Will Step Up for Vikings… and Who Won’t?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Minnesota Vikings
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The Minnesota Vikings placed Justin Jefferson on injured reserve (hamstring) Tuesday, meaning he is out for the next 4 games, at a minimum. While JJ’s absence will be a massive blow for the Vikings, it is also a big opportunity for his skill position teammates to earn their stripes.

The good news is that Kirk Cousins is capable of having big offensive games, without a star wide receiver. The best season of his career, from a yardage standpoint, was 2016, in Washington, when his top receivers were Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson, who were both in their 30’s and beyond their prime.

Kirk Cousins67.0*4917251266.597.2
*Career Best

Low Expectations for KJ Osborn and TJ Hockenson

With Jefferson out, you would think that the next man up would be the Vikings WR2 or maybe, their very highly paid pass-catching tight end? Based on Minnesota’s offensive depth chart and snap count, that would be KJ Osborn and TJ Hockenson. A smart betting man wouldn’t put his hard-earned money on either of those two, though.

Osborn was better during the 2022 season, when he was used less. The more he plays, the more his inability to be a complete receiver is exposed. He has not given any indication that he is a reliable WR2, let alone a WR1. Using him more would be a recipe for disaster, surely to result in more fumbles and more dropped passes than what we’ve already seen.

On that same token, TJ Hockenson has been a major disappointment too, since resetting the tight end market with a new contract before the start of the season. Since getting paid, his play has been very inconsistent and he’s hurting the team. His overall numbers have not been bad, but he has dropped a lot of passes at crucial times. Passes you’d expect someone paid in that manner to catch.

Related: Numbers Say TJ Hockenson Extension Paying Dividends; Eye Test Says Different

Kirk Cousins without Justin Jefferson.

That doesn’t mean all hope is lost. I may not have faith in a couple of the most obvious candidates but I do expect others to step up, until Justin Jefferson is healthy enough to return.

As mentioned above, Kirk Cousins can cook with or without a star wide receiver. Because of that, I don’t expect a big drop off in offensive production. Furthermore, a team with nothing to lose can be dangerous and, at 1-4, the Minnesota Vikings certainly fall into that category.

Jordan Addison’s time to shine

If Kirk takes on that “do or die” mentality and the Vikings continue to air it out, even in JJ’s absence, I wouldn’t be shocked if the offense ends up being more explosive. Not because Jefferson is gone but because Kirk Cousins is attempting throws and hitting windows he wouldn’t shoot for, in a less dire situation.

The main person Cousins should be throwing to now is Jordan Addison. The Vikings spent a first round draft pick on him and he has shown that he can be a big time receiver, even with limited opportunities. He is much more dynamic than KJ Osborn and should jump right to WR1, until Jefferson is ready to take it back. This is Addison’s time to introduce himself to the NFL and give Vikings fans something to be excited about.

Sleeper candidate: Brandon Powell

Another receiver I hope to see more of is Brandon Powell. The Vikings used him more against the Chiefs and he looked really good. He is shifty with the ball in his hands and can run some plays we have not seen since the Cordarrelle Patterson days. Against the Chiefs, Powell caught 4 passes for 43 yards and had 1 rush for 9 yards.

It’s up to Kevin O’Connell to make sure he puts Powell in situations to succeed. At 5’9″, Powell has plenty of deficiencies holding him back. But if KOC can scheme some of those away, Powell could be a big help in finding more offensive production.

Running backs, you say?

Outside of the receivers, I expect Kevin O’Connell to lean on the running backs more. Cam Akers was a good addition to this offense. While his first game wasn’t overwhelming statistically, he’s looked very comfortable and explosive already.

Related: Minnesota Vikings Defense Rankings 2023 – Week 6

Alexander Mattison, on the other hand, has an opportunity to be that big downhill bruising back the Vikings drafted him to be. He has made a few costly mistakes, this season, that can must be cleaned up. Most importantly, stop fumbling.

Mattison and Akers have the potential to be a solid backfield duo. With Justin Jefferson sidelined, we’ll see if O’Connell is finally forced to rely on his rushing attack, to take some pressure off the pass game. It’s definitely going to be more difficult for the Minnesota Vikings offense, with Jefferson out.

But the Vikings offense being forced to find production, outside of JJ, may shine some light through that darkness.

Dominique Clare | Minnesota Sports Fan

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