Leading up to the 2020 draft, the receiving group was titled the ‘best WR draft class of all time.’
The players headlining the group were Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Henry Ruggs. The group turned out to be electric, as the list of good receivers goes on and on. Just to name a few — Brandon Aiyuk, Chase Claypool, Tee Higgins, Darnell Mooney, Michael Pittman, Gabriel Davis, Van Jefferson. The Vikings now have three of them under contract.
Justin Jefferson is, of course, the best receiver of that draft class. He recorded 1,400 yards as a rookie, an NFL record since broken by his college teammate Ja’Marr Chase, and 1,616 yards in his second campaign. The combined 3,016 yards are the most of anyone in the first two career seasons.
His numbers could increase because the Vikings hired Kevin O’Connell as head coach. He helped design the offense that helped Cooper Kupp to win the triple crown. Kupp almost broke the single-season receiving yards record from Calvin Johnson. Jefferson is an outstanding route runner and is impossible to cover in single coverage. Teams still try that over and over, but most fail.
He also formed a great connection with quarterback Kirk Cousins, which is essential to put up those types of numbers. Jefferson has almost 1,000 yards more than Lamb, who is second in terms of yards and scored four more touchdowns than Gabriel Davis, who’s second with 13 touchdowns.
The Ascending Late-Round Pick
K.J. Osborn came into the league as a rookie and was exclusively used on special teams, and he was not good at that. One year later, in his second training camp, many fans wondered if Osborn would even make the roster. He got great reviews in training camp and even secured the WR3 job, despite the arrival of proven veteran Dede Westbrook. Osborn was the first productive third receiver in years.
He recorded 655 receiving yards and scored seven touchdowns. One was a game-winning score against the Panthers in overtime of a thriller. Just like Jefferson, Osborn’s role could increase. The Rams ran exactly twice as many plays in 11-personnel than the Vikings. More sets with three wideouts lead to more plays with Osborn on the field.
He’s also a great slot receiver and, therefore, could benefit from some plays the Rams ran with Cooper Kupp in 2021. Osborn was a great find in the fifth round by Rick Spielman.
The ‘Bust’ With a Second Chance
Jalen Reagor was selected just before Justin Jefferson. That, by itself, got Reagor into a lot of trouble, even if that’s not his fault. He couldn’t live up to the high expectations in Philadelphia. Struggling quarterback play in terms of passing didn’t help him. Jalen Hurts is a great athlete but not the most accurate quarterback. The Eagles rightfully played to his strengths, which didn’t line up with Reagor’s strengths. After the Vikings traded four him, Reagor will get a second chance.
He was demoted to punt returner and didn’t play a role on offense at times in 2021. He’ll get a new chance to come closer to reaching his potential in Minnesota. Hopefully, he can learn some route-running tricks from Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. The two experienced wideouts are among the best technicians in the NFL and could help Reagor develop.
He can also take the top off defenses with his speed. That’s a great fit with Kirk Cousins’ deep throw ability. Cousins is one of the best in the business at that. The offense should be a better fit for Reagor. He is also likely to return punts.
Another big plus is the wide receivers coach, Keenan McCardell. He is a former NFL player, and all his wideouts are raving about him. A big issue for Reagor was his drops and struggles to get open. He’ll get a second chance in Minnesota, and just by getting that fresh start, his confidence should increase. Some tweaks in his technique and the change of air could work wonders with the just 24-year-old wideout.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt