KJ Osborn Will Have A Bigger Year Than You Think

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker (USA TODAY Sports)

We learned two things about Kevin O’Connell‘s offense last week in Las Vegas.

  • The Minnesota Vikings will basically live in 11-personnel (one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers)
  • O’Connell isn’t too paranoid to dial up some of his best concepts in the preseason

Another tidbit we’ve found out throughout training camp is that third-year wide receiver K.J. Osborn is making a strong case for a breakout season in this new, high-flying scheme.

Generally overshadowed by Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, Osborn will have a very critical and basically every-down role for the Vikings in O’Connell’s scheme. Last season, he drew 82 targets for 50 receptions, 665 scrimmage yards, and seven touchdowns in Klint Kubiak‘s system. Now, the Vikings are likely hoping that Osborn can provide even more explosiveness for a Minnesota offense overseen by the former Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator.

For context, Osborn drew just 14 targets last year that were 20-plus yards downfield. To his credit, Osborn hauled in seven of those for 254 yards (36.3 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. Osborn recorded an absurd 135.4 passer rating when targeted on 20-plus air yard attempts.

Next, let’s take a look at how Van Jefferson, LA’s WR3 last year, fared on vertical targets last year. Similar to Osborn, Jefferson hauled in seven receptions, but for an insane 345 yards (nearly 50 yards per catch!) and three touchdowns on 16 targets.

With the amount of attention Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Odell Beckham Jr. required from opposing defenses last season, Jefferson had ample opportunities to exploit the favorable coverages vertically. And it certainly didn’t take long for the Rams to attack these mismatches downfield. On the LA’s third play of the 2021 season, Matthew Stafford connected with Jefferson on a 67-yard bomb off of play-action to blow the roof off SoFi Stadium.

These vertical opportunities for Jefferson continued throughout the season — and in primetime, nonetheless.

If the Vikings are going to replicate the Rams’ offense — and everything that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Sean McVay — Osborn will likely slide right into this vertical field-stretcher role that was oh so kind to Van Jefferson just last year.

While Jefferson may have the edge on Osborn when it comes to straight-line speed, Osborn proved last year that he’s no stranger to taking the top off of defenses with his 4.48 speed.

Circling back on O’Connell not shying away from revealing some of his favorite concepts in the preseason. Last week, he gave away one of his favorite man-beaters from last year. After successfully exploiting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3 last September with this slot-fade concept out of an empty set, McVay, O’Connell, and the Rams kept this play on ice for the rest of the season, right until they needed it most — in the Super Bowl.

And with less than four minutes to go in a meaningless preseason game, here’s Kellen Mond connecting with Albert Wilson for the score from just outside the red zone. It’s the exact same “top secret” concept that the Rams kept under wraps for four and a half months before unleashing it on Super Bowl Sunday.

Did 31 other teams already know that O’Connell had this concept in his back pocket, based on his time in Los Angeles? Probably. But after putting it on film in the preseason, there is no longer any doubt about O’Connell bringing this with him to Minnesota.

And now opposing defenses can be on alert for this concept whenever the Vikings are just outside the red zone.

If O’Connell isn’t too concerned with putting one of his best plays on film in the preseason, does that mean the new head coach of the Vikings won’t be afraid to dial up one of his favorite vertical shots for Osborn against the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night inside US Bank Stadium?

Like it did for the Rams on opening night against the Chicago Bears last year, a first-quarter bomb to Osborn in Saturday’s preseason game would set the building ablaze and set a furious tempo for the coming season. And for all you fantasy football degenerates out there, a 50-plus-yard scoring strike to Osborn would singlehandedly cause Minnesota’s WR3’s Average Draft Position (ADP) to spike overnight. Just like it did for the Green Bay Packers’ Romeo Doubs, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ George Pickens, and San Francisco’s Danny Gray from last week’s preseason action.

If O’Connell is interested in sending a message to not only the hometown Skoldiers inside US Bank Stadium on Saturday night but also to the rest of the league, don’t be surprised if we see one of those patented outside-zone play-action rollout bombs that Stafford and Van Jefferson had so much success with last year.

That way, O’Connell would essentially put the rest of the NFL on notice with a subtle reminder: If you want to load up your coverages on Jefferson and/or Thielen this season, No. 17 will leave your secondary in the dust.

And if the Vikings connect on a vertical shot to Osborn in O’Connell’s debut inside US Bank Stadium on Saturday night, buckle up, because that excitement will reach levels we haven’t seen in quite some time around here.

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