Is It Time to Move on from K.J. Osborn? An Exploration of Potential Replacement Options for the Vikings’ WR3

Sep 26, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn (17) celebrates during the fourth quarter against Seattle Seahawks at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings had a disappointing season in 2023. They started the season 0-3 and failed to improve upon their 13-4 record from the previous year.

Although they won five consecutive games after having a 1-4 record, they went 1-6 in their last seven games. The Vikings had a double-digit losing season for the first time since 2013. Starting quarterback Kirk Cousins was also ruled out for the rest of the season after rupturing his Achilles tendon during the Week 8 game against the Green Bay Packers, and now, the QB is set to enter free agency.

Another contributor set to hit the open market is WR K.J. Osborn. He’s been with the team since they selected him in the fifth round in 2020, and he’s become a fan favorite. If he doesn’t return to the team for the 2024 season, the Vikings will have to find come up with a replacement option for him.

Is It Time to Move on from K.J. Osborn?

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

Osborn came into 2023 with high expectations after breaking out in 2022. Unfortunately, he didn’t take a step forward despite the Minnesota Vikings losing Justin Jefferson for seven games. Osborn is a versatile receiver who could benefit from moving back into the slot. He should get a good deal on the market as a team’s third wide receiver (Spotrac projects his market value at $7.5 million annually), but an extension with the Vikings is unlikely. They must resign Justin Jefferson, and they invested in a first-round pick on Jordan Addison in 2023. 

Here is a look at a few of the potential replacement options that the Vikings could target for Osborn whether it be via free agency, the draft, or the trade market.

Free Agency

Detroit Lions wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones warms up before the Denver Broncos game at Ford Field in Detroit on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023.

Donovan Peoples-Jones, Detroit Lions

Former Cleveland Browns receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones got a raw deal in 2023 after many expected him to break out in a contract year. Per Pro Football Focus, he had 839 yards in 2022, a year that teased tantalizing potential. But that dropped to 155 in 2023. People-Jones was traded mid-season to the Detroit Lions, where he saw seven targets over the last nine games. 

Projected Market Value: $2.7 million annually

Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Tennessee Titans

Nick Westbrook-Ikhine is a different style of receiver than Osborn, and that could be a good thing. Westbrook-Ikhine is a big, physical, and versatile receiver capable of being split out wide. He positively impacts the run game. 

Projected Market Value: $2.5 million annually

Van Jefferson, Atlanta Falcons

In his sophomore season in the NFL, Van Jefferson had 904 yards, and the future looked bright for the Los Angeles Rams’ former second-round pick. Those yards would be more than his other three years combined. Jefferson, acquired by the Falcons in a mid-season trade in 2023, failed to gain more than 25 yards in any game. He is an adequate blocker and could fill the split-wide role the Vikings have open. He has familiarity with head coach Kevin O’Connell from their overlap with the Rams. 

Projected Market Value: $2.3 million annually

The Draft

UCF’s wide receiver Javon Baker (1) runs for a touchdown against Texas Tech in a Big 12 football game, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, at Jones AT&T Stadium.

Ja’Lynn Polk, Washington

Ja’Lynn Polk has an impressive physical profile that includes a mix of height, weight, and length. He is good at everything but not elite at anything. Polk’s ability to play split out-wide, his ball skills, and his physicality would stand out in this Vikings offense. In a loaded receiver class, Polk could fall past his second-round projection. 

Cody’s Projected Draft Round: 2nd Round

Javon Baker, University of Central Florida

Javon Baker is a versatile player who pops analytically. When using PFF data, out of 33 receivers in the 2024 NFL Draft, Baker is fifth in yards after the catch, fifth in yards per route run, first in yards per catch, and has an average depth of target at 17.1, third in the class. Those statistics illustrate his ability to win downfield while gaining good separation. Baker will play split out-wide and is a potential draft steal at his current projected draft round. 

Cody’s Projected Draft Round: 5th Round

Joshua Cephus, University of Texas-San Antonio

Joshua Cephus is an imposing target at 6’3″and 200 pounds, and he will be playing split out wide at the next level. Cephus was impressive at the Shrine Bowl, displaying strong hands and winning at all three levels of the field. You take fliers on players like this late on day three. 

Cody’s Projected Draft Round: 7th Round

Trade Market

Jan 7, 2024; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Joshua Palmer (5) runs with the ball during the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Joshua Palmer, Los Angeles Chargers

Joshua Palmer has had some early career success split out wide, but injuries have been a consistent factor. He’s been good as the third receiver on the Charger’s depth chart, and with quarterback Justin Herbert’s contract kicking in, the new regime in Los Angeles might decide to trade Palmer if they’re not going to re-sign him after the 2024 season. 

Cody’s Projected Trade Compensation: 2024 fifth-round pick

Terrace Marshall, Carolina Panthers

The NFL had high hopes for Terrace Marshall, the former third member of the fabled 2019 LSU receiver room and second-round pick (and collegiate teammate of Justin Jefferson). He never delivered in Carolina, but he could use a fresh start after showing some promise in 2022. Marshall Jr. plays the outside receiver role and will be a free agent in 2025. 

Cody’s Projected Trade Compensation: 2024 sixth-round pick

Darius Slayton, New York Giants

An afterthought in an abysmal New York Giants season, Slayton will likely be moved off the roster because of his $7.9 million cap hit. Still only 27 years old, Slayton has likely done better than people think, with over 750 receiving yards in the past two seasons. Predominately a boundary receiver throughout his career, Slayton could be a sneaky good add for cheap because of the cap hit. 

Cody’s Projected Trade Compensation: 2024 seventh-round pick

Editor’s Note: Statistics for this article were found via Spotrac and Pro Football Focus.