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I slept on K.J. Osborn, and I was wrong to do so

The Vikings’ WR3 was there all along

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

One of the more intriguing storylines leading up to the start of the 2021 season for the Minnesota Vikings was who would fill the role of the team’s third wide receiver. This role took on much greater importance after the injury to tight end Irv Smith Jr., who many people (myself included) were expecting to have a breakout season in 2021 before he was injured in the final preseason game.

I did a post at some point during Training Camp that I can’t seem to find now, but I do remember a lot of people pointing out in the comments that I had completely skipped over second-year receiver K.J. Osborn in my assessment. There had been a bit of buzz surrounding Osborn coming out of Organized Team Activities and mini-camps, but I didn’t really pay much attention to it.

Oops.

As it turns out, the hype was legitimate and Osborn is now the WR3 that the Vikings have been looking for since. . .well, for a really long damn time. With the Vikings having to go with more three-wide sets than we’ve been used to seeing over the past few years, Osborn has gotten an opportunity to shine and he’s taken advantage of it.

How productive has Osborn been in just six games? He’s got 26 catches for 311 yards and two scores in the Vikings’ first six games. Here are the numbers for the Vikings’ most productive wide receivers not named Diggs, Jefferson, or Thielen for the past few years.

  • 2020: Chad Beebe - 20 catches, 201 yards, 2 touchdowns
  • 2019: Bisi Johnson - 31 catches, 294 yards, 3 touchdowns (keep in mind that Thielen only played in 10 games in 2019 due to injury)
  • 2018: Laquon Treadwell - 35 catches, 302 yards, 1 touchdown
  • 2017: Treadwell - 20 catches, 200 yards, 0 touchdowns
  • 2016: Cordarrelle Patterson - 52 catches, 453 yards, 2 touchdowns

I understand that during most of those years the Vikings had reliable tight ends to get the ball to in their offense, whether it was Kyle Rudolph or Irv Smith Jr., and guys like Dalvin Cook and Jerrick McKinnon have gotten plenty of catches out of the backfield over their time with the Vikings as well.

But even with those caveats, what Osborn has done for the Vikings in just the first six games of the year has already been incredibly impressive. He’s already surpassed just about every Vikings’ WR3 of the last five years in terms of productivity in the passing game, and barring injury he’ll blow past Patterson’s 2016 numbers before too long as well. For a guy that got just about no offensive snaps in his rookie season and who. . .we’ll just say “struggled”. . .as a punt returner, it’s been a pretty impressive turnaround.

So, my apologies to K.J. Osborn for overlooking him going into the 2021 season, and here’s hoping that he can continue building on this going forward in his Vikings’ career.