Is the Vikings’ Deep-Threat Receiver Already on the Roster?
A common refrain in recent weeks is that the Vikings’ offense would benefit from adding speed along the outside. With Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson wreaking havoc in the short and intermediate areas of the field, Minnesota could benefit from having a true burner to challenge defenses deep. Perhaps it’s fair to wonder, though, if the Vikings’ deep-threat receiver is already on the roster.
The 6’0″, 190 pound Jalen Nailor is entering his sophomore season in the NFL. Can he fulfill the role?
As a rookie, he averaged a gaudy 19.9 yards per catch. The sample size is small: a mere 9 catches. Giving us even more reason for pause is that much of that damage – 4 catches and 62 yards – came in a meaningless Week 18 game. The week prior, an underwhelming team effort in Green Bay, featured 3 catches for 89 yards.
In other words, it’d be unwise to look at these statistics and use them as a basis to definitively prove Jalen Nailor is going to be Minnesota’s main deep threat in 2023. If he does take on that role, he’ll need to earn it throughout the remainder of the offseason and, indeed, during the season itself.
Jalen Nailor, The Vikings’ Deep-Threat Receiver?
One thing working in Nailor’s favor is that he’s a strong athlete. Take a peak at his RAS score, a nifty way of getting a bite-sized assessment of where his athleticism ranks compared to other receivers looking to enter the NFL.
The 8.09 score – as the green highlight suggests – point to a reasonably strong grade. A bit of an odd component of the chart, though, is that Nailor’s overall score is dragged down a bit by a 4.5 forty-yard dash. It’s an underwhelming number for someone who may be relied on as a deep threat.
For whatever it’s worth, Davante Adams – a terror to cover down the field – ran a modest 4.56, proving that it’s very possible to overcome a modest forty time. Obviously, no one is suggesting Nailor is on Davante’s level; the comparison merely highlights that winning deep is about more than just speed. A great release, amazing focus, timing a jump correctly, and great compete (among other factors) all contribute to winning on a longer route.
Nailor’s speed (or lack thereof) certainly didn’t hold him back in college. In 2020, he had an impressive 19.8 yards-per-catch average. For an encore, he averaged 18.8 yards per catch in 2021. Both averages are elite.
Coupling that college production with the strong average in his (albeit limited) catches from his rookie season give some sense that he could complement that Vikings’ offense by challenging defenses deep.
Some of the common pairings for Minnesota in free agency was for players like D.J. Chark, Darius Slayton, and Mecole Hardman. Why? Because all 3 are blazingly fast, giving them the capacity to win down the field. Instead of bringing in one of these players, though, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has decided to stay put with his current receivers. The GM may look to the draft to add reinforcements or the trade market. He could also be feeling really good about the talent that’s already in the building.
As a rookie, Jalen Nailor had 8 snaps in the slot and 49 snaps out wide. We shouldn’t read too much into the breakdown since there are so few snaps to work with, though the initial hint is that he’ll mostly be working along the outside.
In 2023, the Vikings’ offense is going to continue flowing through Justin Jefferson. Unless something changes, K.J. Osborn is going to be the WR2. Nailor’s task will involve competing for that WR3 spot, a somewhat overlooked but not unimportant position.
Nailor’s capacity to threaten defenses 30, 40, and 50 yards down the field will open room for his teammates. And, of course, we also think of the damage the Nailor can do himself. If successful, he’ll be able to get Minnesota on the board in a hurry by catching a long bomb from Kirk Cousins (who is underrated when it comes to heaving the ball far).
Nailor was part of Kevin O’Connell’s and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s first-ever draft class, so the team’s leadership obviously holds him in high regard. Let’s see if the 24-year-old can carve out a role for himself in the Vikings offense.
He carries a modest $915,165 cap hit in 2023.