Jalen Nailor’s Role in 2023 and Beyond
The Minnesota Vikings currently have 12 wide receivers signed to the roster. Last year the Vikings carried five wide receivers during the season, and I wouldn’t expect that to change. I believe the most intriguing player in the group is second-year WR Jalen Nailor, which is why I want to look at Nailor’s role in 2023.
A sixth-round pick out of Michigan State, there were no great expectations for Nailor in his rookie season. However, he made the roster and suited up for 15 of the 17 regular season games, making it onto the field with the offense on six occasions. His big chance came in the penultimate game of the regular season at Lambeau Field. With the Vikings offense looking stagnant, Kevin O’Connell turned to Nailor to provide a spark in a game that was lost. He did that, catching all three of his targets for 89 yards and a touchdown.
In a dead rubber final game at Soldier Field, Nailor got more opportunities to shine and did so again. This time catching 4 of 5 targets for 62 yards. After those two showings Inwas disappointed he wasn’t utilized in the playoff game against the Giants. Nevertheless, it was an encouraging end to the season, which showed his potential to be at least the Vikings fourth receiver.
Jalen Nailor’s Role in 2023
The top three spots on the WR depth chart are locked in for Justin Jefferson, KJ Osborn, and Jordan Addison. If the Vikings do carry five wide receivers during the season, that leaves two places for the other nine guys currently on the roster to fight it out for. Unless someone springs a major surprise with an outstanding pre-season, it is likely to be two from the three of Nailor, Jalen Reagor, and Brandon Powell. One of Powell and Reagor will take a spot as a punt returner.
What Nailor brings to the Vikings offense is evident when you hear his nickname “speedy.” Despite an official 40-yard dash time of 4.50, which isn’t slow, it’s just not extremely quick. He did run a spritely 7.03 in the 3-cone drill at the 2022 combine, showcasing an excellent ability to change direction at speed, a skill that will allow him to get open.
Nailor has been said to be the fastest man on the Vikings roster since arriving in the Twin Cities last year. Over the top speed would be a good trait for the Vikings while Jefferson, Osborn, Addison, and T.J. Hockenson go about their work. Nailor has been turning heads with his performances in OTA’s. If he can continue this preseason in the same vein, he will keep himself in coach O’Connell’s thoughts. At this time I would predict Nailor takes the WR4 spot and Powell gets the final spot and punt return job.
Nailor’s Role Post-2023
If Nailor can have a productive second season in Minnesota, what are the possibilities in 2024? It’s set to be a big year for both Nailor and Osborn, as well as Addison in his rookie season. The expectation is Jefferson will soon receive an enormous contract and continue to lead the Vikings WRs. The performances of the other three will decide how the WR room shapes up next year.
The hope for a first-round draft pick is to hit the ground running, and if not immediately, at least by the end of the season, Addison will have cemented his position of WR2. Osborn is in the final year of his rookie contract, which jumps to $2.8 million this year after being below $1 million in the first three seasons. Over The Cap gives him a valuation of $9.1 million; if he at least performs at the same level as the last two seasons in 2023, don’t expect a return in 2024 to come cheap.
That’s where Nailor becomes interesting. Can he build on the glimpses we saw at the back end of last season and so far this offseason? To at least show the potential to be a WR3, and at a fraction of the cost of Osborn. Next year, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will once again have financially influenced decisions to make. It’s up to Nailor to make the Vikings GM and HC confident enough to go with the guy they drafted.
The preseason games against the Seahawks, Titans, and Cardinals will be Nailor’s first significant opportunities to shine.