EAGAN, Minn. — Players are less than two weeks away from reporting for 2023 Vikings Training Camp presented by Omni Viking Lakes Hotel.
The first public practice is scheduled for Saturday, July 29, as part of Back Together Weekend, which is presented by The Salvation Army.
In preparation for the return of football, we started a position-by-position preview of the Vikings with quarterbacks and will continue with receivers.
Returning starters: Justin Jefferson (17 games) and K.J. Osborn (nine games)
Also on the roster: (listed alphabetically by last name): Jordan Addison, Lucky Jackson, Trishton Jackson, Cephus Johnson III, Malik Knowles, Garett Maag, Jalen Nailor, Brandon Powell, Blake Proehl, Jalen Reagor, Thayer Thomas
Key departure: Adam Thielen
2022 recap: Jefferson, Thielen and Osborn led Vikings receivers in 2022 when all three recorded at least 60 receptions, including a league-leading 128 by Jefferson. Osborn continued his production for a second consecutive season in his first year in Head Coach Kevin O'Connell's system, finishing with 60 catches for 650 yards. Reagor was acquired before the season and totaled eight catches for 104 yards and one touchdown while also handling punt return duties. Nailor seemed to close his rookie campaign with momentum, catching seven passes for 151 yards and his first touchdown in Minnesota's final two games of the regular season.
View photos of the top 10 receivers of all-time for the Vikings.
3 Key Questions for Vikings Receivers
1. What's next for Jefferson?
Moments after winning the 2023 ESPY for Best Play (for his one-handed snag at Buffalo), Jefferson said he considered the award "the start of it" and guaranteed there's "more to come for sure."
At this point, who can doubt him?
He's boosted his season receptions total from 88 as a rookie without an offseason program to 108 to a franchise-record 128, earning trips to the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons.
A year ago, we posed the question on whether he could take a run at the receiving triple crown under O'Connell, who had helped Cooper Kupp accomplish the incredibly rare feat in 2021 as the Rams offensive coordinator.
Jefferson, in fact, did lead the league in catches and yards (a franchise-record 1,809), but he tied for 11th with eight receiving touchdowns.
Teams layered defenders against him at different points in the season and found success with having a player at the line with help over the top. Sometimes opponents even had three defenders focusing on Jefferson. Teams that took their chances with man defense suffered consequences — one such play at Washington was highlighted by Kirk Cousins in the new Netflix Quarterback series.
Can the Vikings exact more of a toll when teams sell out to try to stop Jefferson and force them to play more honestly? If so, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year might have a good shot at that elusive triple crown.
2. Where will Thielen's targets be directed?
Thielen was targeted 107 times and yielded 70 catches for 716 yards and six scores last season.
Jefferson led the team with 184 targets, and Osborn followed with 90. After that, the next receivers with the most targets were Nailor and Reagor with 13 each.
Tight end T.J. Hockenson wound up ranking fourth on the team with 86 targets, despite not joining the Vikings until their eighth game. While Hockenson is expected to be a major target in the pass game, there's still plenty that could be directed toward Jefferson, Osborn, other returnees or first-round pick Jordan Addison.
If Jefferson could somehow boost his receptions by another 20, the NFL record of 149 (on 185 targets) by Michael Thomas would be within reach.
When the Vikings tabbed Addison with the No. 23 overall pick, some figured Osborn might not be taking a step forward, but the Vikings opened nine games in 2022 with three receivers on the field and played in 11 personnel most of the time. Osborn showed nice leadership for the group during the offseason program.
Addison was sidelined but involved during most of the team's offseason program. O'Connell described it as precautionary for something that popped up during rookie minicamp. He looked smooth in that small sampling and is expected to be NFL ready.
Reagor has now had the benefit of a full offseason program with Minnesota, and Nailor could be poised for a jump in his second season.
3. Which under-the-radar newcomer could make noise in the preseason?
Powell joined the Vikings after spending the past two seasons with the Rams, so he brings great familiarity with the system, despite not being targeted in 2021. Powell caught 24 passes for 156 yards for Los Angeles. He also has experience returning punts and kickoffs, which could help him compete with Reagor for a roster spot.
The Vikings have five undrafted rookie receivers. Thomas, who is listed at 6-foot and 195 pounds, had one of the stronger ends to the offseason program with some impressive grabs during 11-on-11 end of game situations. He averaged 50 catches, 589 yards and six scores over his final three seasons at N.C. State. He also has experience as a punt returner.