Confident K.J. Osborn Enters Year 3 as Vikings Solid WR3

Questions Answered: VikingsTerritory Mailbox, December 13, 2021
Dec 9, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports.

Vikings Insider, The GM’s View 

In my NFL GM days, I often saw players make the most significant leap forward in Year 2 after they learned the NFL ropes and what it takes to be successful in their rookie season.

A prime example last year for the Vikings was wide receiver, K.J. Osborn. After a rookie season with no catches and limited duty as a kick returner, Osborn had a great training camp and preseason in Year 2. He earned the third wide receiver position and came up with numerous explosive plays and clutch receptions during the regular season. He was so effective that the Vikings shifted more and more to three-wide receiver sets as the 2021 season unfolded. 

This was due to Osborn’s emergence combined with the season-ending knee injury to Irv Smith Jr. (making the two-TE offense less desirable). Osborn finished his sophomore season with 50 receptions for 655 yards and 7 TDs.

At Vikings OTAs this week, Osborn talked of the great strides he made last year and his excitement about the new Vikings offense under Coach Kevin O’Connell that will utilize three wide receivers as the predominant alignment (as was the case for O’Connell as offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champion Rams last season). And why not when you have one of the NFL’s top wide receiver trios in Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Osborn.

The Vikings Must Like the WR Corps As-Is
Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn

“What made the difference last year was confidence and just experience,” Osborn told me. “It had nothing to do with my body; it was between my ears. The biggest thing for me was being comfortable and confident in myself and obviously working very, very hard in the offseason and coming out here determined and with a plan to attack.”

Osborn certainly is not resting on his 2021 laurels. “I wouldn’t say I’m more relaxed this year,” he said.  “But I’m not really worried about a roster spot. I’m more worried about how I should be running the routes, how I can change things up, watching film of different guys or opponents throughout the offseason. I have way bigger goals. I want to be on the level of J.J. and Adam and some of the best guys in this league. To be able to help our team win a championship so it’s a constant pursuit for greatness every day.”

So it’s an even more confident Osborn as he enters his third season with a new offense to learn in this nine-week offseason program and on into training camp, an offense that is very demanding on the wide receivers with “a lot of intricacies”, according to offensive coordinator Wes Phillips. 

Oct 17, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

 “That’s super exciting, since the day of the hire I’ve been excited,” Osborn said.  “We’ve been able to keep our same receiver coach (Keenan McCardell), pretty solid room that we have, seeing the things the Rams did and their success and we’re looking to do the same thing here.”

The upcoming 2022 season also is big for Osborn from a financial standpoint since he’ll be eligible for a contract extension next offseason as he enters the fourth and final year of his rookie deal. 

There’s little doubt that the Vikings offense is loaded with skill-position talent at wide receiver, tight end, and running back along with a solid quarterback. The emergence last year of Osborn and how he can continue to ascend in Year 3 is part of the optimism for Minnesota to have one of the NFL’s best offenses (as long as the offensive line plays reasonably well).  

Vikings OTA Conversation & Observations:

1.On Wes Phillips’ comments to the media at OTAs this week: It was interesting to hear the Vikings’ new OC compare Cousins to the quarterback he and O’Connell worked with at the Rams last year—Matthew Stafford. 

“Kirk is adjusting…we’ve gotten through the verbiage change and he’s doing really well,” Phillips said. “He’s really into football and a really hard worker. His ability to reference things he’s already experienced is a huge asset for us so we can just kind of tweak. It’s a lot like when Matthew Stafford came to us in talking to a guy with that much experience who has had success in the league.”

Phillips also was asked to compare two of the NFL’s most productive receivers from last season–Cooper Kupp who led the NFL with 145 catches for 1,947 yards (and 16 TDs) and Jefferson (coming off 108 catches, 1,616 yards, 10 TDs). 

Phillips said both players have a lot of similarities beyond their great production. “They’re different in some respects but both very instinctive,” he said. “They both have a natural ability to separate and work edges. Both can run a choice route, make good decisions so they have football intelligence. The thing that’s exciting is they can play all the spots so you can move them where you think you’ll get a good matchup and they have the ability to win at all levels—underneath, intermediate and deep balls over the top.” 

2. It also was interesting to hear Cousins talk about the learning process with the new offensive system: “I’m spending a lot of time studying including working with flashcards (on play calls). It’s amazing how much things have evolved since I was with Sean McVay (the Rams head coach who O’Connell worked under in L.A.) five years ago. We’re building a foundation now for 2022. Back to the basics, learning and putting in the time to fine tune it and always look for continuous improvement.” 

Cousins also praised two players coming off major injuries that cost them all of 2021—tight end Irv Smith Jr. and wide receiver Bisi Johnson. “I’ve always had a high opinion of Bisi and I thought Irv was one of our most impactful players in training camp last year before his injury,” Cousins said. “I expect big things from both in their fourth seasons.” 

Around the NFL Observations: 

Aaron Rodgers is making news for the wrong reasons once again as he is skipping the start of Packers OTAs. Coach Matt LaFleur and QB Coach Tom Clements are acting unconcerned since OTAs are voluntary, and Rodgers is expected at the team’s mandatory minicamp on June 7-9. But with new wide receivers expected to play key roles in free-agent signee Sammy Watkins and second-round pick Christian Watson, there’s no doubt the coaches would much prefer to have their $50 million per year QB at every offseason practice to work on tweaks to the offense and begin getting in sync with his new receivers. This is another example of poor leadership skills from the self-centered Rodgers.    

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl

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