Coming off his three-game suspension to begin the season, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson figured to play a vital role in Minnesota's resurgence, providing the Vikings receiving corps with the explosive speed and open-field agility needed to draw defenders away from their other stars on offense.
Those hopes may be shelved, temporarily for the time being at least, as sources have indicated that Simpson may have an issue with a disc in his back that could sideline him up to six weeks if surgery is needed to correct the problem.
Simpson's injury first came to light last Sunday morning, with numbness in his leg opening the door for team doctors to dig a bit deeper to find a root cause, discovering the problem with the disc during that process. The extent of the injury is still unknown, but it's expected that Simpson will be out of action for some time, regardless of the treatment option that he and the Vikings choose to implement.
Although he was cleared to play last week, Simpson was extremely limited, and failed to catch a pass in the Vikings' home victory over the Tennessee Titans.
If Simpson needs undergo surgery to fix the issue with his back, the Vikings will have to turn to other options at wide receiver to fill his spot. While they seemed to be okay offensively early on in the season during Simpson's suspension, not having him available will put more pressure on quarterback Christian Ponder as the season progresses.
Through five games this season, Ponder has completed 109 passes for 1,082 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions, relying heavily on the Vikings running game and stout defense to keep opponents at bay while also limiting his mistakes and managing the offense efficiently.
As a result, the Vikings have raced out to a 4-1 record to start the season, and have control over the top spot in the NFC North as things stand right now.
With Simpson likely sidelined for much of the remainder of the season, opposing defenses will undoubtedly try to force Ponder to beat them through the air with the limited receiving options still left at his disposal.
Having standout players like running back Adrian Peterson and wide receiver Percy Harvin will certainly help, but they cannot produce all by themselves, and Ponder will have to prove he's capable of distributing the ball effectively if one or both of them is shutdown.
Fellow receivers Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu will be called upon to step into the void left by Simpson in the coming weeks and provide the Vikings with a quality option downfield opposite Harvin.
That said, it's doubtful that either player will be able to give Minnesota exactly what they need at the position, given their limitations and track record in years past, making it imperative that Simpson come back to the club healthy as soon as possible.
Depending on how Simpson responds to the current treatment regimen, the Vikings could take advantage of the new rules for this season and place him on injured reserve, with the right to bring him back after Week 8, if they feel he could be helpful and productive late in the season.
Given the success the Vikings have had in the early going this year, they should be a contender for a playoff spot when the season comes to a close, and Simpson's presence will be very helpful in keeping the postseason drive alive down the stretch.