Vikings’ WR3 Spot Is a Two-Horse Race

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The roster of the Minnesota Vikings is looking a whole lot different than a year ago. Kirk Cousins is gone, and with him departed a big part of the franchise’s identity. Instead, it is a new era in Minnesota, with J.J. McCarthy hopefully leading the organization for a long time. Cousins was joined by Danielle Hunter, Jordan Hicks, Alexander Mattison, and K.J. Osborn on the exit ramp.

Vikings’ WR3 Spot Is a Two-Horse Race

Viking Has Everything
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

McCarthy and Sam Darnold will replace Cousins, Jonathan Greenard will take Hunter’s spot, and Aaron Jones can hopefully upgrade the rushing attack sans Mattison. Osborn’s job, meanwhile, hasn’t been filled.

The 2020 draft pick emerged in his second season as Minnesota’s third option in the passing game behind Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. The arrivals of T.J. Hockenson and Jordan Addison demoted him to the fourth option, but he was still a significant part of the passing attack.

Vikings' WR3 Spot Is a Two-Horse Race
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Still, the Vikings haven’t replaced him by adding a player in free agency or the draft outside of Trent Sherfield. The veteran journeyman had one career season of over 400 yards, and four of his last five failed to eclipse 100 yards. Alec Lewis’ quote at The Athletic was quite telling: “Big-bodied but not fleet of foot. It’s hard to see him sliding into the No. 3 receiver role.”

Sherfield is unlikely to be the new third target on the outside. Instead, he is a depth piece who can catch a handful of passes and contribute on special teams.

But who will be Osborn’s successor? The Vikings employ two candidates, and unless general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah decides to acquire another player, Jalen Nailor or Brandon Powell should be considered the team’s WR3.

Explained: The 7 Big Takeaways from Vikings Win over NE
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Nailor recently drew some praise (and a warning) from head coach Kevin O’Connell. The wideout was his first mention when he was asked about the WR3 job:

That third receiver spot is going to be very competitive. There’s a bunch of guys that had really good springs. I mean Jalen Nailor had another really good offseason program. … When he’s healthy and on the field, he shows up every single opportunity he’s gotten. That’s our challenge to him is sometimes things are out of your control and then we understand that, but for him to take that next step, we’re gonna need to see him out there a lot as part of that group.

Kevin O’Connell about WR Jalen Nailor

2022 sixth-rounder Nailor showed promise in his debut season, especially his performance against the Green Bay Packers with three catches for 89 yards and a touchdown was exciting. Entering his second season, Nailor was a popular breakout candidate, but multiple injuries slowed him down, and he couldn’t replicate his early success.

Staying healthy has always been a big problem for the former Michigan State standout, and that surely must change quickly. He will compete with punt returner Powell to step in Osborn’s footsteps.

for Vikings WR3 in
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports.

When Jefferson got hurt last year, the Vikings needed someone to step up and become a reliable weapon for the quarterback carousel. Powell became that guy, logging 29 catches for 324 yards and one touchdown. Joshua Dobbs targeted him to score the game-winner in Atlanta, and he made multiple big plays throughout the campaign.

Powell should be considered the favorite to open the season as the third receiver simply because he was the most productive player last year.

It remains to be seen if the Vikings will indeed win the bet. Hoping for improvements from two players with limited output in their professional careers is bold.

Training camp practice will be held at the end of July and August, which will be important weeks for the two wideouts. The competition between the two will be one of the most intriguing battles in this year’s camp.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this article.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and prefers Classic rock over other genres. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt