K.J. Osborn has gone from afterthought to the undisputed third wide receiver in the Minnesota Vikings offense.
And he looks the part, too.
Osborn, a fifth-round pick by the Vikings in 2020, was on the field for 67 of Minnesota’s 83 offensive snaps (81%) in the 27-24 overtime loss to Cincinnati. The 24-year-old was targeted nine times -- the same amount as 2020 rookie phenom Justin Jefferson and one behind Adam Thielen -- and hauled in seven catches for 76 yards.
His first career reception was an 11-yard connection with, of all teammates, Jefferson, who rolled out on a jet sweep and attempted his first pass since at least high school. That surprised just about everyone, so Osborn was wide open near the sticks and moved the chains.
It’s clear quarterback Kirk Cousins trusts Osborn. Four of his seven receptions occurred on third or fourth down, including a 25-yard catch on third-and-24 in the second quarter and a gain of six on fourth-and-4 in the final quarter.
Last season, Osborn didn’t play a single offensive snap. He was stuck behind Jefferson, Thielen, Chad Beebe, Olabisi Johnson and Tajae Sharpe on the depth chart. Instead, Osborn was on the field for 119 special-teams snaps and served as a punt and kickoff returner, until fumbles on a pair of returns in Week 12 and Week 14 bounced him from that role.
But really, what’s more interesting is the Vikings’ use of the third wide receiver in Cincinnati.
In 2020, Thielen was on the field for 85.4% of the snaps, and Jefferson was close behind at an 81.7% clip. Chad Beebe was third among receivers with a 30% share of the plays.
In front of Beebe was not one, not two but three tight ends in Kyle Rudolph (53%), Irv Smith Jr. (50.3%) and Tyler Conklin (41.4%), as well as fullback C.J. Ham (37.3%).
With Rudolph now with the New York Giants and Smith Jr. shelved for the year, Conklin led all tight ends with 59 snaps (71%), eight fewer than the third wide receiver Osborn. In fact, a fourth wide receiver Dede Westbrook saw more playing time (18%) than the team’s second tight end Chris Herndon (14%), who the team traded for in late August.
Minnesota’s most frequent formation against Cincinnati was 11 personnel (three receivers, one tight end) featuring Thielen, Jefferson and Osborn out wide and Conklin at tight end. The Vikings ran 17 plays with that lineup, passing 16 times and running once.
The team’s second-most used formation (11 plays) included the top three wideouts, fullback C.J. Ham and no tight end. Minnesota ran the ball seven times and passed four times in that set.
Herndon and Conklin, the Vikings’ top two tight ends, shared the field just eight times – five passes and three rushing plays.
It appears the days of two tight end sets in Minnesota are over. Whether that’s a reflection of new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak’s preference, the lack of depth at tight end or Osborn’s breakout talent has yet to be seen, but based on Sunday’s performance we’ll go with the latter.
Other notes from Sunday’s snap counts:
-- Nick Vigil stepped in for the injured Anthony Barr at linebacker and played all 69 defensive snaps, logging 10 tackles (two for loss), one quarterback hit and one sack. Head coach Mike Zimmer listed Vigil as one of the positives from Sunday’s loss in his postgame press conference. Vigil played the first four seasons of his career in Cincinnati before taking a one-year stop with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020 and signing a one-year deal with Minnesota in the offseason.
-- In his first game since Jan. 11, 2020 -- the Vikings’ loss to San Francisco in the divisional round of the postseason -- Danielle Hunter was on the field for 60 snaps (87%), the most of anyone on the defensive line. Hunter tallied six tackles (one for loss) and one sack, dropping Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow for an eight-yard loss on third-and-5 in the fourth quarter.
-- Rookie wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette played four snaps (5%) but was not targeted. He returned one kickoff for 21 yards.
-- In his first game with Minnesota, Bashaud Breeland started opposite Patrick Peterson at cornerback and was active for 88% of the snaps. It was a rough debut. Rookie Ja’Marr Chase beat him on a fly route late in the second quarter and turned it into a 50-yard touchdown. Breeland was briefly benched in the second half for eight snaps of Kris Boyd at cornerback, but he returned to the game after Boyd didn’t fare much better.
-- Returning to the Vikings after one season away, defensive end Everson Griffen played 28 snaps. He was had a quiet game, failing to record any tackles or sacks but did notch one quarterback hit.