The Road to 53: WR Jalen Nailor Can Be an Explosive Playmaker

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings roster is just about set for training camp this summer, and with that, the offseason moves past the roster construction phase and into the roster evaluation phase. As we get our first glimpses of the Vikings roster in action throughout the summer, it’s time to evaluate which players should be candidates to make the final 53-man roster during training camp. Today, we continue this process by discussing WR Jalen Nailor.


Questions Answered: Rookie Faster than Nwangwu, Favorites for Suh, Bisi Johnson
Jalen Nailor, WR, Michigan State. © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK. Syndication Detroit Free Press

Jalen Nailor has the nickname “Speedy” for a reason. Coming out of high school, not only was he a productive receiver that was given a number of D-1 offers, but he also was a track star who took gold medals at the NIAA 4A State track meet in the 100 meters, 200 meters, 4×100 meters, and 4×200 meters during his senior year.

Ultimately, Nailor ended up at Michigan State where he became a big-play machine over the course of four years with the Spartans. His freshman year saw the receiver play just 194 snaps with the offense, and of his 18 targets, he caught nine of them for 141 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also had eight carries for an additional 125 yards and another touchdown.

2019 was a bit of a step backward for Nailor, resulting in 15 receptions but only 106 and zero touchdowns. However, he really began coming into his own during 2020 and 2021, combining for 64 receptions, 1107 yards, and 10 TDs over those two years.

As a result, the Michigan State product ended up being a sixth-round pick by the Vikings in 2021 NFL Draft and was selected with the 191st overall pick.

Nailor’s rookie season saw him spend most of his time contributing to the special teams, appearing in 15 games. However, down the stretch of the season, he saw a much larger role on the offense.

Over the final two games of the regular season, Nailor caught seven passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. In total, the rookie caught nine passes for 179 yards and a touchdown, very similarly to his freshman year at Michigan State.

How Nailor Can Impact the Roster

Jalen Nailor Stock Continues to Rise
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jalen Nailor (83) celebrates after making a stop against the New England Patriots during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings need a consistent deep threat on their offense, and with three years left on his rookie deal, Nailor offers that type of skillset, considering he averaged 19.9 yards per reception during his rookie year in Minnesota, and before that, he averaged 16.5 yards per reception during his years at Michigan State.

Down the stretch of the 2022 season, opposing defenses began realizing that, for the most part, they could just throw every CB they have at Justin Jefferson, and the Vikings wouldn’t have a major option downfield other than him.

In order for Minnesota to try and repeat the success that they had in 2022, they will need to find a WR4 that can help open things up down the field. Nailor is fully in the mix to make that happen.

Obstacles in the Way

Vikings WR Jalen Nailor
Aug 14, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jalen Nailor (83) drops the ball during a kick off return against the Las Vegas Raiders during a preseason game at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The thing with Minnesota’s wide receiver room right now is just how much depth they actually have. The top three of the group is pretty much set in stone with Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and K.J. Osborn, leaving three (maybe four) spots on the depth chart. There are 10 players, including Nailor, fighting for those remaining spots.

One of those receivers, Jalen Reagor, offers a very similar skillset to Nailor as well. Reagor actually won the punt returner job over the rookie last season, and he caught eight passes for 104 yards over the course of the season.

Additionally, we can’t fully count out all the undrafted guys that Minnesota brought in to compete for roster spots. It’s going to be a fierce competition to get these last few spots in the wide receiver room.

The Prediction

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jalen Nailor (83) rushes for a touchdown as Green Bay Packers cornerback Corey Ballentine (35) defends during the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Overall, Nailor seemed to really begin catching his stride late in the 2022 season. He may not be as versatile a player in terms of ability to play either in the slot or on the outside (appeared out wide on 49 of his 57 offensive snaps in 2022), but his ability to make plays down the field should really be a useful weapon in Kevin O’Connell’s offense this season. Expect to see more of the wide receiver in his second season.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.