So Long, Mr. Osborn.
When the Minnesota Vikings start to trim their roster this offseason, K.J. Osborn is a longstanding player who will likely not be back in 2024. Having played out his rookie contract after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the former Miami Hurricane will be a free agent for the first time.
So Long, Mr. Osborn.
The Minnesota Vikings had the 22nd overall pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and with it, they selected the greatest wide receiver in the entire league. Thanks to some misfortune for the teams drafting ahead of them, Justin Jefferson remained available, and Rick Spielman gobbled up the LSU standout.
Seeing Jefferson rise the ranks as he had may have been expected from a first-round pick, even if the heights he has reached are unprecedented. Later in that same draft, though, Spielman used a fifth-round pick on a Buffalo transfer, and he then became an integral part of the offense for the duration of his professional career.
Since coming into the league, K.J. Osborn has played 59 games while drawing 30 starts. He joined a Vikings team that was already bolstered by the first-round pick in Jefferson and veteran pass catcher Adam Thielen. While he wasn’t ever expected to compete for top wideout duties, becoming one of the league’s most consistent third wide receivers also has value.
During his first season, Osborn didn’t see the field as a wideout. He played in just nine of the team’s 17 games under head coach Mike Zimmer, and it was a learning process as he sought to acclimate to the highest level. In 2021, though, he turned those nine games from the season prior into nine starts. Picking up 50 receptions, 655 yards, and seven touchdowns, Osborn had arrived.
As Kevin O’Connell took over and the offense took a different direction in 2022, Osborn remained in a similar role. It was clear that Thielen had lost a step, and Minnesota could use another pass catcher to step up, but Osborn remained steady in what he brought to the table. Unable to secure WR2 duties, he continued to operate out of the slot and provide an alternative option for veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins. The numbers took a slight dip, but he started another nine games and became a regular for Minnesota.
This past year, the Vikings once again added a pass catcher. This time, it was another first-round talent in the form of USC standout Jordan Addison. The rookie immediately hopped Osborn on the depth chart, and even with Jefferson missing substantial time due to injury, it was evident where the top of the chain was. Osborn continued to be a steady contributor in the offense, but he again saw a dip in production. The career-low 540 yards and three touchdowns were reflective of lacking usage, as he had just 75 targets to his credit.
When planning for next season, Minnesota seems unlikely and unwise to pay the third player on the depth chart when the production seems to be easily replaceable. Brandon Powell flashed in limited opportunities this season and has previous rapport with O’Connell. Jalen Nailor could be given an extended look if he can remain on the field, and it seems plausible that Minnesota would utilize another mid-round pick on a pass catcher.
The departure of Osborn is not one of distaste but rather an opportunity for both sides to find other suitors. Osborn broke into the league with middling expectations and did everything he could to hang onto them. He will have an opportunity to pitch his abilities as deserving of more elsewhere, and Vikings fans will get a chance to see if he’s right.
The organization got everything they could have expected from Osborn, and that is more than you’d like to be able to take credit for from a later pick.
Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.