Vikings

Jalen Nailor Is Too Explosive To Keep Off the Field

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As the interminably long offseason drones on, I find myself daydreaming about how fun this offense could be in 2023.

And there’s so much to be excited about. Justin Jefferson is the best receiver in football. T.J. Hockenson is flourishing into a franchise player. Brian O’Neill and Christian Darrisaw have the potential to be All-Pro bookends at tackle. First-round pick Jordan Addison could add a whole new dimension to the passing game.

But what better time than the pit of the offseason to daydream about the competition for the WR4 spot. More pertinently, my favorite candidate to win the job, second-year receiver Jalen “Speedy” Nailor.

The Minnesota Vikings took Jalen Nailor in the sixth round of the 2022 draft, and they seem to have gotten a much greater return on that investment than many have anticipated.

Nailor had a reputation for success down the field at Michigan State. He used stop-start quickness and savvy route-running to create separation on downfield routes at a prolific level. He consistently found ways to slip past defenders even without a tremendous speed advantage, which is the type of skillset he’ll need to take the next step in the NFL. But while his 40 time may be nothing to write home about (a modest, functional 4.5), it’s the way he utilizes that athleticism that makes him dangerous.

In this breakdown from Vikings.com analyst Pete Bercich does a great job of highlighting Nailor’s ability to manipulate defenders by varying his speed and acceleration. Nailor holds the defensive back in place until he catches him flatfooted, and then blows past him with surprising acceleration. A 4.5 40-yard dash may not feel befitting of the nickname “Speedy,” but consistently winning on deep routes against Power 5 competition certainly does. Nailor is also a former track star. He certainly has the type of functional speed to make you pay.

So what do the Vikings have in Nailor? A savvy double-move specialist with nice hands and feel for the position. That kind of upside is exactly what makes him such a nice fit to see the field alongside Jefferson, Addison, and Osborn.

With three bonafide receiving threats on the field for the defense to shade coverage to, that fourth receiver needs to be capable of winning one-on-one opportunities in a way that’ll make the defense pay for overcommitting to stopping Jefferson and Co. Often Nailor may be going up against the opposition’s worst corner without safety help over the top. And it’d be a shame for a team like the Green Bay Packers if Ol’ Speedy caught a player like Eric Stokes slipping with one of those stop-start double moves for six points.

Before we anoint Nailor as the next breakout star, he’ll need to earn his keep. Brandon Powell and Jalen Reagor will be fiercely competing for that fourth wide receiver spot, and the Vikings seem to want to give Reagor a genuine opportunity to develop into that role after trading for him last season.

And even if Nailor beats out those two, he’ll still need to earn his snap count. Nailor will need to prove his value to prompt Kevin O’Connell to opt for more four wide receiver sets after investing heavily in tight end, running back, and even bringing back fullback C.J. Ham. Minnesota’s offseason moves on offense might portend that O’Connell may be shifting the offense to a little less “McVay” and a bit more ‘Kyle” on the spectrum of Shanahan wide zone family of offenses. This could mean fewer snaps for the fourth wide receiver altogether if they favor two-tight-end or two-back sets in 2023.

That said, O’Connell’s offense has prioritized the passing game to this point. If Nailor is too much of a weapon to keep on the sidelines, O’Connell may not be able to stop himself from opening things up and chucking it deep to the former Spartan. And if he keeps making plays this offseason like the one below, he’ll only further cement his role in training camp.

As the Vikings offensive coaching staff tinkers in the lab this offseason, they’ve got no shortage of firepower to play with. And Jalen Nailor has the skillset and opportunity in front of him that make him a prime candidate for a big leap in 2023.

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