Vikings Must Prepare for a Detour as New Obstacle Looms on Offense

'Rookie Watch' in Week 18
Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Indianapolis Colts safety Trevor Denbow (43) breaks up a fake punt pass attempt to Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jalen Nailor. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Minnesota wants to throw the football. Anyone who has watched the opening pair of games can confirm as much.

Kirk Cousins has thrown 88 passes. The team’s offense has run the football a mere 26 times. Clearly, things are tilting in a certain direction, but the Vikings must prepare for a somewhat modified approach given some of the recent news.***

The team’s WR4 — sophomore Jalen Nailor — has been put on the IR. As a result, the depth chart is currently just showing four WRs: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, K.J. Osborn, and Brandon Powell. The opening trio are capable of shouldering the load, but an in-game ailment would represent an issue the team may be ill-equipped to handle.

Vikings Must Prepare for a Detour

Adding Josh Oliver and T.J. Hockenson over these past 12 months has revitalized Minnesota’s tight end position.

Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Josh Oliver (84) runs after the catch as Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Jamel Dean (35) makes the tackle and linebacker Anthony Nelson (98) moves in to assist during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Previously, the hope was that Irv Smith Jr. would finally breakout while Johnny Mundt functioned as a do-it-all TE2, albeit with limited upside as a pass catcher. The team now has no such limitations with Hockenson and Oliver proving capable of absorbing large workloads, both in terms of snaps and targets.

So far, the TE1 has been on the field for 98 snaps, putting together 15 catches, 101 yards, and a pair of touchdowns in that time. Meanwhile, the TE2 has snatched 5 catches for 45 yards across his 50 snaps on offense.

Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) celebrates his touchdown with teammates against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

Seeing either one (or both) soak up a few more snaps wouldn’t be surprising, especially the one who just signed a 4-year, $66 million extension.

Kevin O’Connell discussed the Nailor injury on Friday: “We did put Jalen Nailor on injured reserve, sustained a hamstring in practice the other day, unfortunate for him. He was really doing some really good things and will continue to do so when we get him back, hopefully right on that timeline of what the short-term IR is.”

Now, Nailor wasn’t playing a major role on offense, picking up just a single snap across a pair of games to partner with his 35 special teams snaps. What he did offer, though, was some assurances that the team had enough depth to weather the storm if one of the top trio — Jefferson, Addison, Osborn — went down.

Filling Nailor’s spot on the team is Cam Akers, the former Los Angeles Ram who is going to challenge Ty Chandler for the RB2 gig in Minnesota. Who is going to slot into the WR4 spot?

WR Returns
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell (left) and wide receiver Jalen Nailor (83) before an NFL International Series game against the New Orleans Saints at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Rolling into the Week 3 game with just four receivers wouldn’t necessarily be disastrous. After all, Jefferson has proven that he’s capable of taking on a huge workload and Addison’s play suggests he deserves more playing time.

The concern merely rests in football’s physicality. A receiver could easily need to miss a couple plays after absorbing a large hit. Is O’Connell confident in Brandon Powell being the WR3 in those moments? And let’s not forget that Addison had to miss quite a bit of the offseason program as he was nursing various injuries.

Losing a receiver during the game would be a detour the Vikings aren’t in an ideal spot to manage, especially if the run game isn’t going to improve. More 2-TE formations would be the obvious adjustment, but one wonders if that’ll hamper the team’s ability to get down the field if they’re forced into majorly depending on that approach.

camp schedule
Jul 28, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell and wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) talk during training camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The team could opt to dip into the practice squad for help. Trishton Jackson’s name stands out since he’s highly regarded in Eagan. Moreover, the Vikings could look toward N’Keal Harry, who was a 1st-round selection in 2019 who offers great size.

The game against the Chargers begins tomorrow at 12 p.m. CDT. Keep an eye on how O’Connell and the Vikings approach their personnel on offense.

***UPDATE: The Vikings have announced that they’re elevating Trishton Jackson.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.