With K.J. Osborn, The Case Isn’t Closed on a Return to Minnesota

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Admittedly, things don’t look perfect for the receiver’s ongoing employment in Minnesota.

K.J. Osborn was downgraded the instant Kwesi Adofo-Mensah sunk the 23rd selection into Jordan Addison. The WR2 shifted down to being the WR3, a familiar role given his status behind Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen from 2021-22. What was a bit discouraging, though, was how the season unfolded. Even with Jefferson missing a substantial amount of time, Osborn’s numbers took a step back. Is there much of a chance that he continues being a Viking?

Is K.J. Osborn a Goner in Minnesota?

Over and over again, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah proves that he often sees things differently than fans, writers, and analysts.

People had strong opinions about how things were going to go in 2023, but Adofo-Mensah pulled the rug out from underneath our feet. The GM began free agency by signing Josh Oliver — a blocking specialist at tight end whom most hadn’t head of — to some major money. No one saw that deal coming, not after the major trade for T.J. Hockenson.

And, of course, there was the approach to the internal talent. Garrett Bradbury was re-signed for a deal sitting at 3 years and $15.75 million. Alexander Mattison got a fresh deal coming in at 2 years and $7 million. Rather than being cut, C.J Ham was extended, landing a contract with a couple more seasons alongside $5.6 million.

C.J. Ham
Nov 8, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings fullback C.J. Ham. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Any chance we see a repeat performance with K.J. Osborn?

The idea, in some circles at least, is as follows: Osborn had a bit of an underwhelming season, so the Vikings will look to move on while rallying around their gruesome twosome at the top of the depth chart. Don’t forget, though, that this line of thinking is a two-way street. If his production dipped — and it did — then there could be less interest on the open market.

His 2023 season featured 48 receptions, 540 yards, and 3 TDs across his 16 games. Each stat category represents a step back from a 2022 season when he snagged 60 receptions for 650 yards and 5 TDs.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Nov 27, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Chicago Bears cornerback Terell Smith (32) defends Minnesota Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn (17) in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Making things even more discouraging is that he struggled with drops in his fourth season. Typically, he has pretty reliable hands, but he dropped 5 passes last season, more than doubling the 4 drops from the initial three years of his career. So, to be sure, he left some production on the field, a disappointing reality when considering how close the Vikings were in several of their losses (and wins).

One encouraging development is that Osborn’s yards-per-catch average took a step forward, moving from 10.8 to 11.3. The 0.5-yard increase isn’t earth shattering stuff but it’s a step in the right direction, especially when remembering that 2021 featured Osborn going for 13.1 yards per catch.

Dec 9, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn (17) catches a touchdown pass during the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings like to shuffle K.J. Osborn back and forth between the slot and the boundary. In 2023, he spent 210 snaps in the slot (35.4%) and 384 snaps out wide (64.6%). That’s a notable difference from 2022 when he spent 375 snaps in the slot (59.1%) and 259 out wide (40.8%).

In theory, being along the outside lends itself to more explosive gains, but that’s not a pattern that’s always true. After all, his 2021 season featured the 13.1 yards-per-reception average as well as 51% of his snaps coming out of the slot. Is there a world where Osborn could slide into the slot more while also being more explosive?

Of course, Osborn’s role is contextual. Playing alongside receivers as magnificent as Jefferson and Addison means there’s an ongoing need to be unselfish in one’s deployment. Kevin O’Connell will definitely consider what Osborn does well and where the receiver wants to line up, but more important is getting the top pair into looks that the offense requires.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings
Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) reacts with wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) after scoring his first career touchdown pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins (not pictured) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Since being drafted in 2020, K.J. Osborn has repeatedly proven that he’s a great teammate, leader, and worker. His rookie season went very poorly and yet he found a way of solidifying himself as the WR3 as a sophomore (a role he hasn’t relinquished). He plays alongside certified stars who hog the targets and yet he won’t be found complaining, instead biding his time for his next opportunity.

Not everyone is capable of doing what he does, folks.

The question, then, becomes how much it will cost to retain the 26-year-old receiver (his 27th birthday is on June 10th). Few could blame him if he chases a hefty payday. Will it arrive, though?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
Aug 5, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) and wide receiver K.J. Osborn (17) during training camp at Twin Cities Orthopedic Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

On PFF, Brad Spielberger offers a pretty modest set of numbers: 2 years and $10 million in total money. Truth be told, that projection sounds about right. Demarcus Robinson, for instance, just signed in Los Angeles for a single season at $4 million. The Rams’ receiver is older and has more modest yardage, but he’s similarly working from within an offense with a pair of studs up top (Cooper Kupp & Puka Nacua).

The Spielberger projection thus seems pretty reasonable. Osborn could very plausibly be heading toward a contract spanning a couple seasons and landing somewhere in the $4-$6 million range (per season, of course). Don’t be surprised if Minnesota is the team to give him that deal.

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

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.