The Minnesota Vikings aren’t having a successful offseason if there isn’t a late-round wide receiver with an unreasonable amount of hype around them. Jalen Nailor may not be the next Stefon Diggs, but he could get more playing time than the average sixth-round rookie.
Which Vikings receivers will get playing time this year? The obvious starters are Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. K.J. Osborn is penciled in as WR3, but it’s a cluster of late-rounders and undrafted free agents after that.
There are three candidates for WR4 right now: Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Bisi Johnson, and Nailor. Dan Chisena has been on the team for two years. Still, he’s unlikely to break out after the Vikings moved him to safety, cut him, then re-signed him last year.
Neither Smith-Marsette nor Johnson have shown much from a performance standpoint. They each have a season-high of 116 yards and two TDs, and 294 yards and three TDs, respectively. Johnson was WR3 when he had 294 yards as a rookie in 2019.
Smith-Marsette had a couple of highlight plays last season, but nothing notable. And Johnson is in limbo. He’s not spectacular at anything but is serviceable.
Furthermore, the stakes are higher this year with Kevin O’Connell’s propensity to run packages with three WRs on the field. The second-tier of WRs on this team will have to prove they can play in relief of the top-three on the team. Or at least have a role that the Vikings can use them in during unique circumstances.
That’s where Nailor comes in. Remember Aldrick Robinson? In 2018, he signed a one-year deal with the Vikings and had five TDs on just 231 yards. Why? Because he was a deep threat who could stretch the field. He was a role player who got snaps because of it.
Nailor could see the same fate. He’s also known as “Speedy,” and while it’s something of an uninspired nickname, it’s accurate. He’s an incredible athlete. Like many players Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has drafted, Nailor is known for his athletic ability. He posted a 4.5 40 time at the combine. He also has a 4.39 time on record.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a sixth-round rookie WR gets a bunch of snaps this year because there are opportunities for a burner to be out on the field at any given time. It’s why Robinson had a chance to shine catching passes from Kirk Cousins for a rental year. He was the only one who could outrun the defense in a straight line for an easy (looking) touchdown.
So why was Nailor a sixth-rounder? He’s suffered injuries and missed playing time in 2018, 2019, and 2021. When he was healthy, he was Michigan State’s leading receiver, but he couldn’t stay on the field.
Nailor’s pre-draft profiles are full of positives. His only knocks are lack of physicality and injury history. Barring injury, he has a much better chance to become a starter than most other sixth-round picks because he has so much talent.
The new front office kept wide receiver coach Keenan McCardell from the old regime, and the former wideout “pounded the table” for Nailor during the draft. It’s telling that Thielen specifically vouched for McCardell to stay with the regime change on Ben Leber’s Unrestricted Podcast. Now McCardell got his guy.
Nailor has the ability to turn into a great receiver, and it’s not unheard of for late-round WRs to do it (*cough cough* Stefon Diggs). But, in truth, he’s probably more of a developmental player because there are more experienced receivers in the room. That’s not bad news, though, because Thielen is getting older, and Jefferson will be the highest-paid NFL receiver soon.
Nailor has a role on the team from the get-go because of his speed alone and could have a few long receptions this year simply because Cousins does have the arm to stretch the field with a burner. Three-hundred yards and five TDs aren’t out of the realm of possibility for the sixth-round rookie.