The Time to Perceive This Man as WR2 Is Fast Approaching

What We Have Learned From Vikings OTAs
K.J. Osborn

Long before the Minnesota Vikings officially released Adam Thielen, the discussion of WR2 in 2023 was a hot topic. With Thielen’s departure confirmed, the conversation intensified. And as the top free agents have signed elsewhere, the options are dwindling.

That said, the time to perceive K.J. Osborn as WR2 is fast approaching. 

It’s not quite time to put him on the depth chart in permanent marker, but you can certainly pencil him in. There are other options the Vikings can still pursue, but Osborn getting his chance to be the guy alongside Justin Jefferson is looking more likely.

The Time to Perceive This Man as WR2 Is Fast Approaching

After a rookie season that didn’t even produce a single snap on offense, Osborn came out of nowhere to win the WR3 job in 2021. After two seasons in that role, Osborn has 1,321 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns — solid numbers, to be sure.

Can he make the step up to WR2? It would take a considerable leap. Performances like the 10 catches, 157 yards, and a touchdown as he spearheaded the greatest comeback in NFL history against the Colts show potential. 

The Time to Perceive
K.J. Osborn

The final game of the regular season in Chicago — when Jefferson and Thielen were sparingly used and rested in the second half — is the only other occasion Osborn has gone over 100 yards in a game. The Bears weren’t exactly good last season, but it showed he could step into a more significant role and be successful. Osborn was also instrumental in the Vikings home win over the Lions last season. Trailing by three points with just over one minute on the clock, Osborn was targeted three times in a row, hauling in the second and third passes for 28 yards each time — and the game-winning touchdown.

The question is this: does the Vikings coaching staff believe he can make the step up? We don’t know that yet, but the fact that they haven’t rushed out to sign a surefire WR2 indicates some belief. Odell Beckham is the only free agent still available who would come in and immediately surpass Osborn. That would be a risky and expensive move for a veteran with a history of injuries, not the move I would expect the Vikings to make.

Could the Vikings Trade for a WR2?

The other option is seeking out a WR2 via trade. The Philadelphia Eagles did so last year, surprising everyone by trading for AJ Brown during Day 1 of the 2022 draft. The potential candidates for such a trade would be the likes of DeAndre Hopkins, Tee Higgins, Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Brandon Ayiuk, and Michael Pittman. 

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (85) warms up before the first quarter of the NFL Week 18 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens at Paycor Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. © Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

There are some very intriguing names on that list, but at what cost, and do the Vikings have the draft capital to make it happen? Then, the problem is finding the money for the new wide receiver. Minnesota is tight against the salary cap and needs to find the money for extensions involving Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson, and possibly Danielle Hunter. A trade shouldn’t be ruled out, but it’s tricky to envision at the moment.

The Draft

The obvious place to look for a WR2 is the draft.

The Vikings will have to use their first-round pick on a wide receiver if they expect him to step straight in. Even then, it’s not a sure thing. For every Jefferson, there is a Jalen Reagor. However, if the Vikings land one of the top prospects, they could find their guy who can step into the role immediately.

Wide receiver isn’t the only position the Vikings are likely to have their eye on in the draft, though. Speculation is mounting regarding the Vikings as serious players in the quarterback stakes. Cornerback is another position that still needs addressing, and the case can be made for defensive line, linebacker, and interior offensive line. Minnesota certainly isn’t able to put all its eggs in the wide receiver basket.

Looming Departure
Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

Drafting a wide receiver on Day 2 or 3 is an option, but that would further indicate that the time to perceive Osborn as WR2 is fast approaching. A guy drafted there might be the eventual answer, but it shouldn’t be expected immediately, leaving Osborn the chance to stake his claim.

Is he good enough to take it? I doubt he can progress to be more than a WR3, but then again, I never gave him a chance to take that role heading into training camp in 2021.

He surprised everybody then — can he do it again?