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2021 Vikings Position Recap: Wide Receivers

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings once again boasted one of the league's top wide receiver duos (when healthy) in 2021.

That position group also benefited from the emergence of a few young players who could be key pieces for the future.

The headliner of this position group was Justin Jefferson, who shrugged a historic 2020 rookie season aside and was even better in his second year in the league.

A two-time Second-Team All-Pro selection by The Associated Press, Jefferson was also named for the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year. He finished the 2021 season with 108 catches (fourth overall in the NFL) for 1,616 yards (second) and 10 touchdowns (tied for sixth).

Adam Thielen also found the end zone 10 times and finished with 67 catches for 726 yards. He endured a frustrating final month as he injured his ankle against the Lions in Week 13, missed one game and returned for another before ultimately ending the season on Injured Reserve.

K.J. Osborn proved to be a reliable No. 3 option all season and stepped up in Thielen's absence.

After not playing a single offensive snap during his rookie season, Osborn recorded 50 receptions for 655 yards and seven touchdowns in his second season.

Dede Westbrook began the season as Minnesota's fourth wide receiver, but was overtaken by rookie Ihmir Smith-Marsette in the final month of the season.

Westbrook had 10 catches for 68 yards on the season, while Smith-Marsette had half that many receptions (five) for more yards (116).

Smith-Marsette, a 2021 fifth-round pick, also scored twice and topped the 100-yard mark in the season finale, becoming one of four Vikings receivers to post a 100-yard game in his first career start.

There's a strong chance that nearly all of the key contributors for this position group will be back in 2022, as wide receiver continues to be a strength of Minnesota's offense.

"We always have confidence in our guys," Jefferson said. "I feel like everybody in that room can make a play at any time. It's just all about that opportunity."

View the best wide receiver photos from the 2021 season shot by Vikings photographers.

Notable Number: 10

Jefferson and Thielen each caught 10 touchdown passes during the 2021 season. It was the second straight double-digit season for Thielen, while Jefferson hit the mark for the first time in his career.

They became the first Vikings duo with double-digit touchdown catches since Hall of Famers Randy Moss and Cris Carter did it in back-to-back seasons in 1998 and 1999.

Jefferson and Thielen were the only teammates to each have at least 10 touchdown catches this season.

Memorable Moment

Osborn called game in overtime against the Panthers.

With Minnesota and Carolina tied at 28 in the extra period in Week 6, the Vikings were nearing the red zone at the Panthers 27-yard line.

Osborn made sure the Vikings would win this one, catching a corner route from Kirk Cousins and dipping his body inside the front left pylon for the walk-off winner.

"I turned and it was up, and it was my turn to make a play, so that's what I did. I just made a play," said Osborn, who finished with 78 yards on six catches, including a clutch 13-yard catch in overtime on third down.

Regular-Season Statistics

Justin Jefferson

Recorded 108 catches for 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns on 167 targets in 17 games; averaged 15.0 yards per catch with a long of 56 yards; had six carries for 14 yards; completed two of four passes for 50 yards

Adam Thielen

Recorded 67 catches for 726 yards and 10 touchdowns on 95 targets in 13 games; averaged 10.8 yards per catch with a long of 35 yards; had one carry for two yards

K.J. Osborn

Recorded 50 catches for 655 yards and seven touchdowns on 82 targets in 17 games; averaged 13.1 yards per catch with a long of 64 yards (a touchdown against Pittsburgh); had one carry for 10 yards

Dede Westbrook

Recorded 10 catches for 68 yards on 15 targets in 15 games; averaged 6.8 yards per catch with a long of 17 yards

Ihmir-Smith Marsette

Recorded five catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns on six targets in eight games; averaged 23.2 yards per catch with a long of 44 yards

The highest high

1. We're giving Jefferson the whole month of November for this one.

The second-year receiver simply went off in a four-game stretch, catching 24 passes for 464 yards and three touchdowns.

His best performances came in back-to-back wins against the Chargers and Packers, victories that helped the Vikings elevate themselves into the NFC playoff picture at the time.

Jefferson tied his then-career high with nine receptions at Los Angeles, pulling in 143 receiving yards on the road in a 27-20 win. He then dominated the Packers at home with eight catches for 169 yards and a pair of touchdowns, an outing that earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Jefferson's 464 receiving yards rank third among Vikings players all-time in the month of November. Moss had 473 in 1998 and broke his record with 510 in 2000.

Jefferson's dazzling stretch rightfully earned him NFC Offensive Player of Month honors.

The lowest low

1. Minnesota's Week 8 home loss to Dallas was one of the most disappointing of the season.

And the Vikings wide receiver group couldn't do enough to get a win.

Thielen led the way with six catches for 78 yards and a score in prime time, but Jefferson and Osborn were held in check.

Jefferson had season lows in catches (two) and yards (21) on a meager four targets, while Osborn had two receptions for 10 yards on three targets.

A deep pass to Jefferson on Minnesota's second series fell incomplete after a diving attempt. Dallas cornerback Anthony Brown had fallen down after a double move, leaving Jefferson all alone down the Cowboys sideline, but it seemed like Jefferson struggled to spot the ball in flight.

2 pressing questions for 2022

1.What does Jefferson have in store for Year 3?

Jefferson fell just 17 yards short of surpassing Moss' single-season receiving record of 1,632 yards in 2021.

That's about the only thing Jefferson hasn't accomplished in his first two seasons in the league, as he's twice-been named a Pro Bowler and All-Pro.

He is the only player in NFL history with 3,000-plus yards in his first two seasons, and is tied for the most receptions (196) in that timespan, too.

There is no question Jefferson is a superstar. He has emerged as a face of the Vikings, as well.

But he also wants to win, too, and has been frustrated by not making the playoffs or being above .500 in his first two seasons in Purple.

Jefferson will once again be a focal point of Minnesota's offense in 2022, and there's no reason to think he won't put up more gaudy numbers.

2.Do the young wide receivers continue to step up?

Adam Thielen will be 32 years old by the time the 2022 season starts, and he is already entering his 10th season in the league.

Thielen said earlier this month that he feels good and is ready to keep making an impact going forward.

But he also won't play forever, and the showings by Osborn and Smith-Marsette in 2021 could be pivotal for the offense in 2022, too.

Osborn was one of the season's best developments, and it started from Week 1 on when Minnesota incorporated more three-receiver sets after tight end Irv Smith, Jr., was lost for the entire campaign. (Osborn's first NFL touchdown in Arizona was quite the statement, too).

Smith-Marsette had a slow start but ended strong, and he could also be in line for more playing time if he continues to develop.

Entering 2022, the Vikings have a young star in Jefferson, a reliable veteran in Thielen and two emerging youngsters in Osborn and Smith-Marsette. Any team in the league would likely take that group.