The Minnesota Vikings selected Olabisi Johnson in the seventh round of the 2019 draft, and the former Colorado State receiver completely overachieved for a player selected that late. He caught 45 passes for 483 yards and scored three touchdowns in his first two seasons.
However, he suffered an ACL tear in training camp heading into his third year that would end his season before it started. With the emergence of K.J. Osborn and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, it became easy for Vikings fans to forget about Johnson entirely.
But Johnson, who is now completely recovered from injury, has had a strong start to training camp and will be looking to prove his worth to this new Vikings coaching staff. According to Matthew Coller, Johnson is currently in a battle with Smith-Marsette and Albert Wilson for the fourth wide receiver spot on the depth chart.
Johnson will certainly be facing an uphill battle as he tries to beat out Smith-Marsette, a young player coming off a strong finish to last season. And Wilson is a proven veteran who the Vikings front office signed this offseason. However, Johnson will offer a different skillset than both ISM and Wilson, with his purposeful route-running and physical strength in the run game.
Unlike Wilson and Smith-Marsette, Johnson is not a speedster. He is certainly not a freak athlete, either. Because of that, he has been forced to become extremely technically sound just to make the NFL. In an interview right after being drafted, Johnson stated that he was “a route technician and [takes] a lot of pride in [his] routes.”
Many fans may see Johnson’s lackluster athleticism as a negative. However, in the new offensive scheme that Kevin O’Connell is bringing to the Vikings, Bisi’s technical and purposeful route running will be a positive. As we know, Cooper Kupp is also not exactly an incredible athlete. He uses his knowledge of the position to get open, and he had the best season by a WR in NFL history last year.
I am not saying that Kupp and Johnson are the same caliber players. Instead, I’m proposing that Johnson’s skillset and physical build are valuable in the offense that the Vikings will be running next season. Johnson may be the only receiver besides Adam Thielen who can provide that physical presence in the run game. Wilson, Smith-Marsette, and rookie Jalen Nailor are all speed guys with small frames looking to stretch the defense. They also are not fit to block linebackers.
On top of that, Johnson already has a proven track record of success with quarterback Kirk Cousins, and Cousins has trust in Johnson to step up when called upon.
“When Adam was out for a game in 2020 against Carolina, I pulled Olabisi [Johnson] aside, and you said, ‘Hey, you’ve gotta be Adam, you’ve gotta step up and be that No. 2 guy this week,’” Cousins said. “And he did. And it makes a big difference for our offense. I think we lost Adam for about six weeks in 2019 and really relied on Bisi during that whole stretch. He did a great job.”
Obviously, Johnson’s previous success alone will not be enough to warrant a spot on the 53-man roster. However, having that connection with the starting quarterback is a massive asset.
For most of last season, O’Connell and the Los Angeles Rams kept six receivers on the active roster ahead of each game. Because of that, we can expect that the Vikings will follow that same guideline. In that case Johnson should have no trouble making the 53-man roster — and opportunity to once again prove his worth to this Vikings team.