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Will Roles Expand for Young Vikings on Offense in Finale?

EAGAN, Minn. — By the time Week 17 is over, Justin Jefferson may have two of the three biggest receiving stats records in franchise history.

No, he's not going to surpass Randy Moss' touchdown total of 17 (Jefferson has seven scores this season), but he could overtake the yardage total by Moss in 1998.

Jefferson already has set a franchise rookie record with 79 catches (Moss had 69) and is just 47 yards from surpassing Moss' Vikings rookie record of 1,313 yards. Jefferson's 1,267 yards so far includes a franchise rookie record of six 100-yard games.

Jefferson, who was named to the 2021 Pro Bowl, also can make a run at Anquan Boldin's rookie record of 1,377 yards and make his final case for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Jefferson on Wednesday was asked if he wanted to make his case for the award.

"I just let my play do the talking. I just go out there and have fun," Jefferson said. "Have fun playing the game that I love and just love playing with my brothers.

"As long as we're going out there and putting up points and just getting the 'Dub,' that's all that really matters," Jefferson added.

Despite not having an offseason program or preseason, Jefferson said he set goals of recording 60 catches, 1,000 yards and six touchdowns.

Check, check and check.

"To actually reach my goals and reach beyond my goals, I mean that's something special," Jefferson said. "I've just got to keep going and keep building on my game and get better and better each season."

Other draft classmates also have been pressed into action this season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball where roster turnover and injuries fast-tracked opportunities.

With Minnesota (6-9) already eliminated from playoff contention, Kyle Rudolph finishing the season on Injured Reserve, Dalvin Cook's excused departure after the death of his father and left tackle Riley Reiff landing on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, opportunities could increase for younger offensive players against the 5-10 Lions.

Here's a rundown of ways that other young players could see expanded roles:

What does the offensive line look like?

The Vikings have used four different starting combinations on the offensive line this season.

The quintet of — from left to right — Reiff, Dakota Dozier, Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland and Brian O'Neill has been the most common one with eight total games.

But with Reiff going on the Reserve/COVID-19 List on Wednesday (his status remains to be seen), there's a chance Minnesota rolls out a fifth combination against the Lions.

If Reiff doesn't play, the Vikings will be missing a solid veteran who has played all 1,002 offensive snaps in 2020.

Does Cleveland get a chance at left tackle, a spot he played in college?

Or does reliable swing tackle Rashod Hill see snaps as the starter? Olisaemeka Udoh, who played 31 snaps on offense in Week 17 a year ago, is also an option at tackle. Hill last started in the 2019 season finale and played 25 of his 40 offensive snaps this season at Tampa Bay in Week 14.

Dozier and Bradbury have also played every offensive snap this season, with both having their ups and downs. Both could start and play the entirety of Sunday's game.

But if the Vikings want to get a look at another young lineman, perhaps Kyle Hinton sees the field for the first time in 2020? A seventh-round pick, Hinton was signed to the 53-man roster from Minnesota's practice squad earlier this week.

No matter how the final line combination shakes out — whether it's a previous lineup or a new one — the group will have one final chance to impress in 2020.

Which young players can make a lasting impression?

We mentioned Hinton above as a potential name to monitor, but there are other players who have three or fewer years of experience that bear watching in Detroit.

Tight end Irv Smith, Jr., has flourished of late with five touchdowns in his past five games (including two against the Lions earlier this season). Can the 2019 second-round pick end his season on a high note and be primed for a bigger role next season? Tyler Conklin has added 12 catches and his first career touchdown since filling in for Rudolph in Week 14.

Cook on Wednesday returned to Miami following the unexpected death of his father, James. While everyone's thoughts are with Dalvin, the Vikings will need someone to carry the ball Sunday.

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Lions.

Perhaps Alexander Mattison gets a chance to show what he can do as the leading back after missing Week 16 with a concussion? Or maybe Mike Boone gets his first start since the 2019 finale and has help from veteran Ameer Abdullah against Detroit?

Other young players to watch include wide receivers Bisi Johnson and K.J. Osborn, with the latter potentially having a chance to end 2020 on a positive note on special teams.