Did Kevin O’Connell Overlook K.J. Osborn?

Vikings Opponents
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell looks on before the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Amidst all of the elation and rejoicing after Minnesota’s opening pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, there was a somewhat odd moment involving Kevin O’Connell.

No, it’s not the young receiver accidentally hanging up on his head coach (among other Vikings staff members). Instead, it’s the enthusiastic admission that the rookie addition is the clear-cut frontrunner for the WR2 job.

When K.J. Osborn saw the video, what did he think?

Earlier in the offseason, the fourth-year WR responded to the proclamation that Minnesota didn’t have any “quality” receiver talent beyond Justin Jefferson. Clearly, Osborn is looking to prove that he’s a very capable NFL receiver. Adam Thielen was long in his way, but the veteran’s departure meant Osborn had a fresh opportunity. And, to be sure, I was among those who supported his bid to be elected as WR2.

Pair of Vikings Draft Picks
Apr 27, 2023; Kansas City, MO, USA; USC wide receiver Jordan Addison on stage after being selected by the Minnesota Vikings twenty third overall in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After making the move for Addison, though, Kevin O’Connell proudly proclaimed that the Vikings just picked a “day 1 starter.” While talking to the recent draftee, O’Connell giddily explained how putting Addison into the same huddle as Justin Jefferson would be a problem for the rest of the NFL.

In 11 personnel, the Vikings are usually going to lean on Jefferson, Addison, and Osborn. If that’s their main formation – very likely – then the team can have a trio of “starters” at receiver. Other offseason moves, though, suggest that 12 and 21 personnel are going to be more of a focus. In those looks, is it Addison or Osborn? There will be some rotation, but the early word seems to suggest Addison.

Now, it’s worth noting that just using a 1st-round choice on Addison told us all we need to know. Investing that much into him means he’s being relied on to be a starter very early. What’s a touch more notable is that O’Connell not only explicitly said it, but that his words made it into the social media video’s manicured final cut.

Making things even more eyebrow-raising is the social media post that reads “Got us a Day 1 starter.” The social media team is merely parroting what the head coach said, but the effect is notable: Osborn is further pushed down the receiver hierarchy. Or, at least, that’s what’s occurring in people’s minds.

Reaction to Greatest Comeback in NFL History
Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Does O’Connell like Osborn? Without question. Earlier in the week, the head coach discussed how Osborn has been shining in OTAs: “K.J.’s been a real standout all spring. He’s moving around, he’s playing multiple spots. Taking on a leadership role, which I expected him to do in that room.” Not too long afterwards, O’Connell praises his receiver for taking “ownership” of his job and for being “consistent.”

The NFL, though, is a workplace where actions speak louder than words. If the belief really was the K.J. Osborn was a surefire, locked-in WR2 capable of surpassing 1,000 yards, then the move for Jordan Addison likely doesn’t occur. By O’Connell’s own admission, Addison is being drafted to be a starter in the offense.

Praising Osborn’s leadership, brains, and attention to detail is great, but sinking the 23rd overall selection into a WR when top-tier corners were still on the board is telling. There were great players – Deonte Banks & Joey Porter Jr. – available who play at a premium position, one where Minnesota is starved for help and yet the team still opted for Addison. Clearly, the team really values the former USC pass catcher.

Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) reacts with wide receiver K.J. Osborn (left) after scoring a touchdown on a pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins (not pictured) against the Green Bay Packers during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Osborn had 60 catches, 650 yards, and 5 TDs. Given that he was a 5th-round receiver who was chosen primarily to be a punt returner, Osborn is already a massive success for the Vikings. However, he seems quite motivated to prove that he’s capable of elevating his play even higher.

The 25-year-old is entering the final year of his rookie deal, carrying a modest $2,809,943 cap charge. He’s someone to monitor as an extension candidate.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.