At the season’s halfway point, K.J. Osborn is putting forth an underwhelming performance on special teams. Fans should still be encouraged. Indeed, Osborn should continue improving as he adjusts to the NFL.
The Minnesota Vikings spent a fifth-round pick on Osborn because of his ability as a returner. At the halfway point in the season, Osborn’s numbers are underwhelming. Osborn is averaging 22.2 yards per kickoff return, per Pro Football Reference. Osborn’s longest return has gone for 38 yards. Cordarrell Patterson, in contrast, averaged 32.4 yards per return in his rookie year. Patterson even had a 109-yard return.
Orborn’s punt returns have been even worse: a measly 1.5 yards per return. Keep in mind, though, that he only has had two punt returns. Perhaps the best part of Osborn’s returns has simply been his confidence catching the ball. He is very, very poised when he catches the ball.
In his defense, Osborn has snagged a few really great tackles in coverage. He also takes really good angles, which helps his teammates succeed in coverage. Osborn’s value, then, goes beyond just the returns.
Minnesota’s Special Teams
No one can say that the Vikings haven’t prioritized special teams. Every team says they value special teams; few have devoted the resources that Minnesota has to ensure the special teams play well. Dan Bailey and Britton Colquitt were each signed to three-year deals in the offseason. Over the Cap has Bailey as the NFL’s 13th highest-paid kicker. Colquitt is the sixth highest-paid punter.
Minnesota has also allocated a significant amount of draft capital toward special teams. Osborn was a fifth-rounder. They used a seventh-round pick to acquire Austin Cutting, a considerable amount for a long snapper. Last year, they traded a fifth-round pick for Kaare Vedvik, which didn’t work out. Regardless, the trade signals Minnesota’s willingness to make special teams a priority.
Their roster similarly demonstrates their commitment to special teams. Shockingly, Mike Zimmer has seven receivers on his team. Dan Chisena and Osborn – Minnesota’s sixth and seventh receivers – are being kept solely for their special teams abilities. Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah – Minnesota’s third and fourth running backs – are being kept primarily for their special teams play.
The Vikings, quite evidently, have prioritized special teams. Their last game against Detroit certainly gives fans some reason for concern. Nevertheless, fans should also find some comfort in the fact that Minnesota is obviously committed to finding solutions.
If K.J. Osborn can turn into a legit weapon on special teams, then the Vikings will start finding themselves in better field position. Doing so will make life considerably easier for the offense and defense. In a likelihood, K.J. Osborn is still adjusting to NFL speed, so his play on special teams will hopefully improve.