Justin Jefferson’s return will help turn things around in final stretch, ex-Vikings star Kyle Rudolph says

December 8, 2023
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The Minnesota Vikings return from a late bye week second in the NFC North and with renewed faith in quarterback Joshua Dobbs after a disappointing two-game slide. 

While other teams have closed in on the Vikings during their off week, two-time Pro Bowler and former Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph believes the return of Justin Jefferson could help turn things around in the Vikings’ final stretch of the season.  

Josh Dobbs celebrates touchdown

Joshua Dobbs (15) of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates scoring a rushing touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium Nov. 12, 2023, in Minneapolis. (Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Head coach Kevin O’Connell told reporters Wednesday Dobbs would start Sunday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders despite committing six turnovers in the last two games. He said the time off allowed them to evaluate Dobbs and the offense for the week ahead, but he added it was not a commitment to Dobbs through the rest of the season. 

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Star wideout Justin Jefferson is also expected to make his return Sunday, more than a week after being activated to the roster. It’s an addition that could help the Vikings seal a playoff spot. 

“If the season ended this past week and the wild-card round was this Saturday, the Vikings would be playing,” Rudolph told Fox News Digital in an interview Wednesday.

“I think if there’s anything that would make Josh Dobbs more comfortable as the quarterback, it would be having Justin Jefferson out there alongside him.”

Kyle Rudolph in an NFL game

Dwight Lowery (20) of the San Diego Chargers tackles Kyle Rudolph (82) of the Minnesota Vikings during the second quarter of a game Aug. 28, 2016, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

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Rudolph, who played 12 years in the NFL before officially retiring as a Viking in September, told Fox News Digital Jefferson’s return could serve as a morale booster for more than just the offense. 

“I think that would provide a huge boost for not just the offense. You know, the offense is immediately better when Justin Jefferson is on the field, but just the overall excitement for the whole team,” Rudolph said. 

“It’s going to make the defense better. It’s going to make special teams better. Guys will just be so excited to have him back out there on the field. I feel like it could be a great lift for them as they head down this final stretch of the season, making that push for a playoff spot.”

Justin Jefferson vs Panthers

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson catches a touchdown pass against the Carolina Panthers during the second half of a game Oct. 1, 2023, in Charlotte, N.C.  (AP Photo/Rusty Jones)

With uncertainty surrounding the quarterback situation in Minnesota, the organization will have to deal with even more questions with Kirk Cousins’ contract expiring at the end of the season. 

VIKINGS SUPERSTAR JUSTIN JEFFERSON CLEARED TO RETURN AFTER MISSING NEARLY 2 MONTHS WITH HAMSTRING INJURY

His season-ending Achillies injury from late October complicates that matter further. 

“I think that’s something that the market will decide in the off-season,” Rudolph said of the likelihood of Cousins’ return next season. “You’re looking at a pocket passing quarterback who has had a ton of success with that style.” 

As Rudolph explains, the decision is more focused on the future of the organization as opposed to Cousins’ ability to fully recover. 

“I’m a firm believer in medicine today and getting him to a point where certainly he can come back and play at a high level. I just believe that, at what price point would the Vikings be comfortable? Because, you know, I mentioned Justin Jefferson. He’s a guy who needs a new contract,” Rudolph said.

“You know, where are they going to go? What direction are they going to go in? Not only is Kirk older and coming off an Achilles tear, but, you know, he’s coming close to the end of his career. So, at what point do you decide where we’re going to address that position and look for someone more suited for the future? Or is Kirk a guy that we can get back at a price that we’re comfortable with to continue to build around these guys and try to make another run at it?” 

Kirk Cousins after getting sacked

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) walks off the field after getting sacked during the second half of a game against the Los Angeles Chargers Sept. 24, 2023, in Minneapolis.  (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

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For now, O’Connell is taking a week-by-week approach, he told reporters Wednesday. 

The Vikings travel to Las Vegas Sunday to face an equally rested Raiders team coming off a bye week.

A two-time Pro Bowl tight end, Rudolph played with the Vikings from 2011-2020. The following season he signed with the New York Giants and played his final year in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2022. 

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