KJ Osborn ready for more as Vikings use multiple receivers
Last year, the 2020 fifth-round draft pick started nine games and caught 50 of 82 targets for 655 yards and seven touchdowns.
EAGAN, Minnesota — When the Minnesota Vikings held up their entire starting offense for Game 2 of the preseason last weekend, there was a notable addition to the roster — KJ Osborn.
Minnesota features one of the best duos in the league with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Osborn, the third-year wide receiver, has clearly established himself as the next man in the pecking order. It is a position that has more importance for the attack set up by new coach Kevin O’Connell.
The willingness to keep Osborn out of a preseason game is a sign of his importance to the Vikings.
After years of a run-first approach under former coach Mike Zimmer, with tight ends and fullbacks essential to the scheme, Minnesota is likely to opt for more multi-receiver sets under O’Connell. .
“That’s what you play for,” Osborn said. “That’s why you come here and break your tails the whole offseason, all there in training for opportunities. This stuff is convenient, but you have to do it when it counts, it’s in a game. I’m excited for this opportunity and I’m ready to take advantage of it.
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Osborn’s breakout, essentially, began last season when Thielen missed four games late in the season.
A 2020 fifth-round draft pick in Miami, Osborn didn’t catch an assist in his first season. Last year he started nine games and caught 50 of 82 targets for 655 yards and seven touchdowns.
“What was funny was last year he showed up a lot in our two minute stuff because in two minutes we weren’t formulating the plays so much to get the ball to Adam or Justin” , said quarterback Kirk Cousins.
“It was just basic training and I was trying to run fast. And, so, KJ started showing up a lot, and I was saying to the coaches, ‘We might want to involve him more in the first-team game plan. and second down throughout the game, because in two minutes he really makes plays.’ for us.’ I’m delighted to have a player of his caliber who can help take the pressure off Justin and Adam.
Osborn’s numbers from last year could be easily surpassed in the new offense, health permitting.
According to the Football Outsiders website, the league-wide rate for 11 staff – a guard, a tight end and three receivers – was 59.2% last season.
The Los Angeles Rams, where O’Connell was the offensive coordinator, used three receivers on a record 84.9% of their snaps.
Minnesota, with Zimmer’s more conservative approach, used 11 people in only 42.5% of the shots. Although this was a double-digit increase from the previous season, it was still the fourth-lowest total in the NFL.
O’Connell, after learning from Rams coach Sean McVay, will certainly increase the Vikings’ use of the multi-receiver.
“I think you’re going to continue to see KJ make a lot of plays on the court in the passing game and that’s the thing, rightly so, so that should be applauded,” O’Connell said earlier at camp. practice, adding that the third receiver will also need to be mindful as a blocker.
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“That third receiver position requires a guy to put in a lot of work,” O’Connell said. “These jobs aren’t always the most glamorous and glitzy where we all take notice of that. It could be defining a block or understanding how to hit a block in the running game and ultimately how it plays with some of these screens and variations of what we do. He was really, really good. There is no other way to describe it at the start of camp. What I challenged him to do was consistency.
Osborn began the offseason in a competition for the position, along with Bisi Johnson, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and others. As the camp progressed, Osborn was treated more and more like a first-team player, including sitting out last week’s game.
“The second year, I was just trying to earn a spot on the roster,” Osborn said. “I hadn’t played any snaps yet. Last year I played a full season, had a few catches and things like that, I was successful. Now I come here even trying to maximize that, build on that, and just become the player that I want to be.
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