The Skol Debate: Might OBJ, Another Player Complete The Vikings Offense?

Dec 21, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings offense is one of the better ones in the NFL. In fact, it’d be fair to say that Kevin O’Connell has his side of the ball playing well. Have they been elite? I don’t think so, and yet Minnesota fans should mostly feel encouraged about where things stand.

Nevertheless, that positive outlook doesn’t change some people’s opinion that Minnesota may benefit from adding someone else. There can be a particular focus on adding another receiving threat, which has inspired us in this debate.

The usual debaters are back, asking, “Would another player complete the Vikings offense?” As you’ll see, much of the debate centers on OBJ. Take a look at where the debaters stand:

The Purple Corner: Josh Frey (Yes, adding one more piece could be huge). 
The Gold Corner: K. Joudry (Don’t do it, just work with the talent that’s on the team). 

With that said, the debate.

Should the Vikings Offense Look to Add One More Weapon?

KJ: At present, the Vikings have the 8th-best offense in the NFL (as long as we are simply looking at points-per-game average). Like many others, I’ve had my moments of frustration, especially in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. We’ve often seen Kevin O’Connell do an excellent job with his opening script and then at the end of the game. In the middle? Not as much. 

Regardless, the offense has played reasonably well after their opening 8 games. The wild thing is that it’d be safe to say that they still haven’t reached their full potential. Let’s not forget that Kirk Cousins has yet to clear 300 yards or 3 TDs in a single game this season (leading to some disagreement about whether he needs to play better). 

The point I’m trying to make is that the offense is currently in the league’s top 10 and could plausibly climb a fair bit higher. That’s a good spot to be in as the season begins its descent toward the playoffs. 

With these realities in mind, why do you think the Vikings offense ought to add someone else, Josh? 

JF: If you had asked me this question a month ago, particularly in regards to OBJ, I would have been on the exact same page as you. I would have been worried about adding to a position like wide receiver when there are other potential needs across the team. 

However, my opinion has changed since then. Firstly, looking across the NFL, it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that OBJ would return to the Rams, especially if they keep losing games. Likewise, why would he want to go to a Packers team that just lost to the Detroit Lions? Sitting at 7-1, the Vikings may quickly be becoming the spot that intrigues him the most.

Then, if you look at the Vikings needs around the roster, there aren’t too many that come to mind right now. The EDGE department of Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith are making life hell for opposing QBs. Patrick Peterson and Harrison Smith are holding things down in the secondary, and rookie Akayleb Evans looks like a contributor too. The Vikings fixed their tight end problem with T.J. Hockenson, as well.

Overall, my stance is less that the Vikings desperately need someone like OBJ right now to fix any problems on offense. Rather, I would say that if someone of his caliber emerges as a possibility, then why not try to bring him in?

KJ: Perhaps my rationale will be overly simplistic, but I’ve got a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. 

Now, I can see the appeal of someone like OBJ. He was added to LA’s roster during the middle of the 2021 season and helped them snag a Lombardi. Kevin O’Connell will know him well and, if I’m not mistaken, he’s pals with Justin Jefferson. 

Nevertheless, I’d still lean toward trying to get more production from the players already on the roster. Adam Thielen has definitely taken a step back this season, and much of that seems to be a result of how defensive backs are playing him. DBs are being physical in their coverage, making it challenging for him to find some needed separation as the ball is arriving. He was targeted 7 times against Washington but only had 3 catches. 

On the surface, that would appear to support adding OBJ (or another offensive weapon). What I’d rather see, though, is a commitment to allowing Thielen to do what he does best. In the same Commanders game, Thielen did excellent on crossing routes. Perhaps the team can have the luxury of using him in different ways now that T.J. Hockenson can become the #2 pass catcher. Plus, the need to defend both Jefferson and Hockenson may allow Thielen to start getting back to more normal production. 

One also thinks of K.J. Osborn, who currently only has 21 catches for 185 yards. Last season, Osborn had 50 catches for 655 yards. The drop from 13.1 yards per reception to 8.8 yards per reception is pretty notable. Coming into the season, a lot of folks thought Osborn could not only replicate those numbers but possibly even improve on them (I had a lot of optimism). So far, that hasn’t been the case, but we ought not assume that he can’t turn it around. 

Is it possible that Kevin O’Connell is still figuring out how to fit all his weapons into the Vikings offense? If so, does that make it wise for the team to add someone else? 

JF: I think it’s absolutely possible that Kevin O’Connell is still learning how to use his offensive weapons, especially considering T.J. Hockenson has only been in the building for one week.

It certainly will take some time for everyone in that building to be accustomed to one another, but the fact that Hockenson caught nine passes in his first week with the team speaks volumes to his work ethic and how O’Connell is running his offense.  

Personally, I don’t see adding another piece as a way to “break” whatever this offense has been doing, though. The Vikings have consistently been adding pieces to this group all year from the Jalen Reagor acquisition all the way to last week’s trade for Hockenson.

The biggest problem I see the Vikings running into, particularly against a secondary like the Buffalo Bills or Philadelphia Eagles, should they meet in the playoffs, is that Minnesota needs another weapon to spread the field opposite of Justin Jefferson. Philadelphia made sure that the Vikings weren’t allowed to go to Jefferson on a consistent basis, and it virtually eliminated big play opportunities. 

In their first five possessions against Philadelphia in Week 2, the Vikings recorded just four plays that went for 10+ yards. By eliminating the big play, the Eagles jumped out to a 24-7 lead, and the Vikings couldn’t counter. OBJ’s speed and route running ability would provide the Vikings with another threat opposite Jefferson that can open up the field. 

So far into the season, Osborn and Thielen have not proven capable of being that on a consistent basis. As you mentioned, Osborn is averaging just 8.8 yards per reception, and Thielen’s 7.3 yards per target are a career-low

I’m not arguing the Vikings need to eliminate these two from the scheme, either. Thielen, in particular, will remain a very reliable threat in the red zone as he has over the past few years. I would feel much better about having another player capable of going downfield and catching one-on-one balls, though, to put pressure on defenses.

Finally, the Vikings are 7-1 and on the verge of being true Super Bowl contenders. Things have broken Minnesota’s way all year, and we don’t know when this type of year will happen again. If you have the opportunity to add a capable, Super Bowl champion at wide receiver, I say go for it.

Do you see the potential value with OBJ, or am I wrong on that one?

KJ: Of course, I can see the appeal. As you mention, OBJ is someone who could complement the offense, allowing Jefferson to find more room.

Even still, I have my hesitations, even if we overlook the finances for a moment (which is something that’d need to be addressed; the team only has a touch more than $1.7 million, per Over the Cap). 

Is the issue that Osborn can’t win deep or that he hasn’t been asked to do so with the same regularity? Truthfully, I don’t know, but I’m skeptical that he can’t do damage down the field. Last season, we saw Osborn get open down the field, such as this play: 

Or this play: 

Or this play: 

Or this play from earlier in the season: 

Now, I’m not trying to suggest that Osborn is elite, but I do think he can do more down the field. Jefferson can win anywhere, Thielen and Hockenson can work the short and intermediate, and Osborn can be sent deep with more regularity. I feel more confident in that scenario than one where OBJ – who is older and coming off the serious injury – comes in to become a tremendous deep threat. 

How explosive was OBJ pre-injury? Are there other FAs who could function as a deep threat? How will the finances work out? 

JF: Sure, maybe Osborn can fill that role, and we just haven’t seen it happen as often in 2022. The fact remains, though, that we haven’t seen him do much of anything against the best defenses in the league. Against the Eagles, he was targeted just two times for 25 yards. OBJ, on the other hand, has made these plays on the biggest stage.

For the financial aspect, of course the Vikings have very limited cap space. However, OBJ surely knows the limitations of the Vikings finances, too. If he wants to play for the Vikings, he’ll make less money than, say, if he played with the Cowboys. If money is going to be the hang-up, he won’t be a Viking.

As for other FA acquisitions, I see very little use for spending the cap space that the Vikings have on someone other than OBJ at this point. I may have argued for Will Fuller, but he retired. Other than that, I don’t see many other players that could improve Minnesota’s offense.

There’s obviously a high-risk, high-reward with bringing in OBJ. The reward is a Super Bowl winning wide receiver who could help the Vikings offense on a deep playoff run. The risk being that if anyone gets hurt, there’s less flexibility to bring in someone else as a depth piece. 

I’m willing to take that risk for OBJ, given the level of play that he performs at when healthy. During last year’s playoffs with the Rams (with Kevin O’Connell witnessing it first hand as his OC), he caught 21 of 26 targets for 288 yards and a pair of touchdowns. If there’s an opportunity to get him for the rest of the season, he’s a guy I want playing on my side, and not for an opponent.

Perhaps we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, but I’ll kick it back to you for your final thoughts.

KJ: Yeah, this might be one where we end up on opposing sides instead of a compromise in the middle, which is totally fine. It’s entirely plausible that OBJ could indeed push this offense to the next level. And, I’ll hasten to add, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah hasn’t been shy when it comes to adding talent. If the first-year GM sees someone he thinks can help his squad, he has proven that he’s willing to make things happen. 

Does that guarantee anything? By no means, and yet it does mean that Vikings fans should stay on their toes.

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