How Rookie WR Jalen Nailor Fits with 2022 Vikings
Here’s a bit of reality — Jalen Nailor is likely to make the Minnesota Vikings 53-man roster in September. He was the only wide receiver drafted by the team in April, and it was for a good reason.
Keenan McCardell was the one notable coach held over from Mike Zimmer’s coaching staff, which is telling as a standalone feat. McCardell joins Kevin O’Connell in his quest to build a collaborative Vikings culture.
During the draft, McCardell reportedly “pounded the table” for Nailor, an indicator the Michigan State alumnus will be included in 2022 regular season plans.
And here’s what those plans for Nailor may look like.
Life as the WR5, Maybe Even WR4
The 2021 Los Angeles Rams — O’Connell’s former employer — began the 2021 season with six wide receivers. That bodes well — like, really well — for Nailor. He will make the team; you can buy the jersey.
The first three WR roles are spoken for beyond the shadow of a doubt, as Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn are the team’s big threesome via the passing game. That will not change, barring injury.
Nailor can carve out his spot this summer somewhere behind Osborn. Ihmir Smith-Marsette won’t like it because he’s the frontrunner to nab WR4 duty. And down the stretch of 2021, Smith-Marsette showed glimpses of WR3 and WR4 ability.
On the other hand, WR5 is totally up in the air. Bisi Johnson returns for his fourth season — a contract year, no less — but overtaking the Colorado State alumnus is not a daunting task. Johnson is “a guy,” only made noteworthy by the Vikings refusal to invest in a bonafide WR3. It’s a safe bet that Nailor wins the WR5 job over Johnson.
Nailor was a big-play threat at Michigan State, and that’s not very Bisi-esque. The rookie has the inside track to become the team’s WR5.
Life as Punt Returner
Suppose we’re wrong, and Johnson returns to the Vikings as a revitalized tyrant of high-flying offense. When you’re done giggling, Nailor can be surmised as a punt-returning candidate.
This isn’t a fringe theory. Instead, the idea escaped the lips of new special teams coordinator Matt Daniels.
Last year, Dede Westbrook provided punt-returner services, and he remains a free agent as of May 24th. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah evidently doesn’t see the merits of re-signing Westbrook for a sequel.
Ergo, the PR job is up for grabs. If Nailor isn’t ready for WR4 or WR5 duties — boom — how about the punt returner title? He ran a 4.5 forty-yard dash in the lead-up to the draft, which will do the trick while returning punts.
And in the interest of avoiding antinomy here, perhaps Nailor will full both duties — WR5 and PR.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).