Training Camp Shocker: The Ascent to WR3

K.J. Osborn
Jan 3, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn (17) reaches for the goalline before the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Vikings fans were hopeful that members of the rookie class from the 2021 NFL Draft would scale the depth chart, outfitting the offensive line with fancy new faces.

To date, no such ascension has occurred as Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis are injured, disabling any promotion to starting gigs. The Vikings released their first unofficial depth chart – and Darrisaw and Davis are a bit buried by last year’s backups, Rashod Hill (LT) and Oli Udoh (RG)

Then, the rookie quarterback contracted COVID.

Not a good start – at all – to training camp for the notable Vikings rookies.

There’s still time, though. Minnesota’s first preseason game kicks off this weekend at U.S. Bank Stadium versus the Denver Broncos, who encountered horror the last time they visited Minneapolis. Darrisaw, Davis, and Mond basically have one month to get healthy and make an impact if the goal is to receive September playing time.

One notable player has already made a case for 2021 playing time – a totally unforeseen climb at the wide receiver position. His name is K.J. Osborn. When Minnesota unveiled the aforementioned depth chart, Osborn was anointed WR3 duty, if only for a few weeks.

Outside of a few Twitter prognosticators, nobody predicted that Osborn would seize the WR3 title in training camp. Hell, it wasn’t a lock that Osborn would make the 53-man roster. Now, it feels completely elementary that he’ll make the team. And if the depth chart holds firm through August, Osborn might be the team’s third wide receiver. The Vikings have not employed a productive WR3 since Jarius Wright left in 2018, so any WR3 news is a big deal.

General Manager Rick Spielman signed Dede Westbrook last month for the WR3 job. But due to recovery from a 2020 torn ACL, he is not taking many snaps at training camp. Osborn, on the other hand, is getting action — making the most of his opportunity and looking snazzy while doing so.

Osborn was an offensive footnote during the Vikings 7-9 pandemic season. He played zero offensive snaps. Absolutely none. He teetered on late-round bust fate. His name was known simply because he played on 27% of all special teams snaps. Osborn returned a total of 21 kicks and punts in 2020.

Due to the way humans think – doomsdayism at times – Osborn was known for fumbles. During his last two appearances for the Vikings (Week 11 and Week 13), Osborn fumbled twice on punt returns. Luckily, neither of his two fumbles were recovered by Minnesota’s opponent. Crisis averted.

Therefore, Osborn was known as “the guy that fumbled punts and wasn’t good enough to play on offense.” Fast forward eight months and Osborn has fundamentally changed the narrative. He’s fighting for a WR3 job and has a reasonable chance to grab it if Westbrook’s recovery flounders.

His task is to stave off Chad Beebe (WR4), rookie Ihmir Smith-Marsette (WR6) and the aforementioned Westbrook (WR5). It won’t be easy – Osborn must make an impact in the preseason.

A 5th-Round draft pick in 2020, wide receivers from that round have a documented history of success. It would not be strange for a WR borne of the 5th Round to thrive.

Some recent 5th-Round wide receivers? Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Marvin Jones, Kenny Stills, Darius Slayton, and others.