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Xs and Os: How Drafted Receivers Could Make Biggest 1st Splash for Vikings

EAGAN, Minn. — is taking a position-by-position Xs and Os look at the team's 2020 NFL Draft Class to project how and where players might make the biggest impact.

The recurring series began Tuesday with cornerbacks and is continuing below with receivers. Future installments are planned for the next two weeks.

The Vikings tabbed two wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft, including first-round selection Justin Jefferson with the No. 22 overall pick that was acquired as part of the compensation from the Buffalo Bills for Stefon Diggs.

Minnesota later added K.J. Osborn, who played in 2019 at Miami after joining the Hurricanes as a graduate transfer from the University of Buffalo where he played for the Bulls.

Here's a look at how Jefferson and Osborn could make their biggest first splashes for the Vikings.

Player Profile: Justin Jefferson, LSU, junior

A native of St. Rose, Louisiana, Jefferson is the third of three sons who played collegiately at LSU. He also is the holder of the school's single-season receptions record after posting 111 in 2019 on the way to totaling 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns in helping the Tigers go 15-0 and win the CFP National Championship.

That production escalated exponentially. Jefferson did not record a catch as a freshman in 2017, but he led LSU the following year with 54 receptions for 875 yards and six touchdowns. The prolific performance from 2018-19 placed Jefferson No. 5 in receptions, No. 6 in receiving yards and No. 3 in touchdown catches in school history.

Jefferson explained after his selection that the style of offense he played in at LSU should have overlap and help make him "pro ready."

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak concurred that a similarity in verbiage will be helpful during an offseason program that has been implementing distance learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"With the offseason that we're having, which is so different by not having our hands on these young men, it's going to be really important for how quick they can get up to speed, so to speak, when there is time for us to go back to us," Kubiak told Vikings Entertainment Network.

Where He Could Play: After playing on the outside in 2018, Jefferson did the brunt of his damage from the slot for the Tigers in 2019.

Jefferson picked up the position that he had never played and delivered a high level of consistency, catching at least five passes in 13 of LSU's 15 contests. His biggest performance occurred in the CFP National Semifinal when he caught 14 passes for 227 yards and four scores against the Oklahoma Sooners.

Jefferson credited LSU Passing Game Coordinator Joe Brady, who is now the offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, with making a big difference in his transition. Brady arrived in Baton Rouge in 2019.

"Coach Joe definitely came in and worked with us on different ball drills and eye-coordination drills," Jefferson said. "Just really focus in on our hands and our reaction time and all those different things to become a better receiver. It helped me tremendously throughout the season, and you can tell it changed throughout my sophomore to junior season."

Kubiak said Jefferson's versatility will come in handy.

"You can say, 'He's a slot player,' or 'He's this.' We've got to do what he does best," Kubiak said. "Obviously, him moving inside and doing a lot of those things was a big positive for him, but I think he has the ability to play wherever we ask him to play.

"We can move guys by how we call formations; we don't necessarily have to say he's a slot player," Kubiak continued. "He'll go out there and operate where Diggsy just left, so he'll work at 'X' as he learns our offense and stuff. But as I start to call plays and do that, I'm going to put him in the position where he's more comfortable and where I think he does his best work."

Coachspeak: "The first thing that jumps at you is, 'You don't catch 111 balls in a season … in pro football or college football … unless you're a very bright player.' As a receiver, in order to do that, you have to have the ability to move around. … He's very competitive; he came up the hard way, and it wasn't easy for him if you read his story. He's kind of been an overachiever-type his whole career and kind of plays with a chip on his shoulder.

"You won't see this kid run out of bounds many times. He challenges people and has a very competitive nature on the field. He's played against the best, and played some of his biggest games against the best. That's very encouraging."

— Kubiak

"You see a competitor, somebody who wants the ball in his hands and wants to play hard all of the time, wants to do right. You see a guy that, when he gets the ball in his hands, he's a special player.

"I think he really tries to perfect his craft from his initial release to his secondary release and how he creates separation in the route, how he uses his hands and momentum as he goes. He's a fast guy who knows how to use his speed, and once he gets into the route, he knows when to turn it on and use different release techniques."

— Vikings receivers coach Andrew Janocko

Film Breakdown: Former Vikings player and coach Pete Bercich, now a Vikings Radio Network analyst, looked at some of Jefferson's college tape.

Bercich noted that Jefferson has the "requisite" height and weight at 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds and was timed at 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

"Taking a look at what the scouts have to say, they think he's a great route runner," Bercich said. "I think he's a very, very good receiver in yards after catch, has a wonderful, what they call 'catch radius.' Now in scoutspeak, that means when the ball is thrown his way — it can be thrown behind him, back shoulder, front shoulder — he'll find a way to come up with the football."

Bercich noted that 100 of Jefferson's 111 receptions and 17 of 18 touchdowns last season occurred on plays when Jefferson lined up in the slot.

"He starts in the slot, but he's not just a little hitch and curl type of wide receiver," Bercich said. "In fact, if there's one thing I think he's going to need to work on when he gets into the NFL, are those shorter, underneath type of pivot routes. What you're going to see is a guy getting open down the field and then catching the football and making big things happen."

Recurring themes in Jefferson's college tape included the following abilities: catching the ball in traffic, completing the reception in stride, making a guy miss and creating a big play. 

Bercich showed Jefferson's execution on a quick slant and determination to finish the play with a touchdown, his fluidity on a jet sweep and his ability to create "run-by" separation on a vertical route.

In the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, when Jefferson stunned the Sooners with career highs of 14 catches, 227 yards and four touchdowns, Bercich said a blitz look by Oklahoma resulted in a 35-yard score. 

"They're showing blitz. They want to leave a safety 1-on-1 with Jefferson in the slot," Bercich explained. "You can't be flat-footed when this kid is coming up the field. You see the amount of space and separation is key. This is kind of a run-by type of separation. You create it by footwork, by your routes, by knowing what defensive coverages you're going to get and how to react to them."

Bercich added there's "so many things" he likes about Jefferson, including "his ability to catch the ball in traffic and his ability to catch the ball in stride, make a guy miss and then make a big play out of it."

Player Profile: K.J. Osborn, Miami, fifth-year senior

Listed at 5-11 and 203 pounds, Osborn is cut from a different cloth than Jefferson, but he also excelled as his college career progressed.

In 2019, Osborn transferred to Miami and led the Hurricanes with 50 receptions, 547 yards and five touchdowns.

Osborn was one of four Hurricanes offensive players to start all 13 games and the only player on his team to have more than 1,000 all-purpose yards.

A native of Ypsilanti, Michigan, Osborn began his college career at the University of Buffalo in 2015. After redshirting that year, Osborn caught eight passes for 105 yards and a score in 2016.

His numbers increased to 35 receptions for 493 yards and four scores in 2017 and then 53 catches for 892 yards and seven touchdowns.

Vikings Director of College Scouting Jamaal Stephenson said Osborn is a "phenomenal kid" that instantly led after transferring.

"This guy was only there for a spring, and they took him to ACC Media Days as a rep for the University of Miami, so that speaks to his leadership," Stephenson said. "He's a hardworking kid. … He's been real excited throughout this whole process about the prospect of becoming a Viking, and we're happy we were able to make it come true because he's a good player and an even better person."

Where He Could Play: Osborn was asked whether he is better on the outside or in the slot and said, "Ah, it really doesn't matter to me."

"I feel like I had the most success in the slot when I was at Buffalo when my quarterback was Tyree Jackson, but I'm really comfortable anywhere I play, inside and outside, my whole career," Osborn said. "So, yeah, whatever helps the team win."

Spielman said Janocko and Kubiak liked the opportunity of being able to develop Osborn's "natural ability" and that interactions between scouts and Osborn, as well as analytics, all pointed to a positive outlook.

"There are a lot of things, not only from a football standpoint and a potential return standpoint, but also from the quality of person he is and how much true passion; he does love to play," Spielman said.

As the GM mentioned, special teams might be Osborn's best introduction to the NFL. He finished his college career with an average of 12.1 yards per return (594 yards on 49 returns). That average was highlighted by his whopping 15.9 yards per return (255 on 16) at Miami.

Coachspeak: "One of the first things that jumped out at me about K.J. is that in the draft, there were a few players who were grad transfers, guys that had a good career somewhere, graduated, transferred to a particular school, and then it was like, 'OK, how'd they do?'

"Well this kid went from Buffalo, to the University of Miami, we all know about Miami's program through the years, and he walks in there, he becomes a leader on their football team, he's very productive in what they did, and he was a great specials player and returner. So that's number one – he has a lot of character, because that's not easy to do.

"When I watch him play, I just think there's a big upside here. I think offensively we can kind of bring about some more of his talents in what we ask him to do as a receiver, but I think he's definitely going to help our team and help move us from a return standpoint. So, I see upside here. We're very fortunate to get him. I really like what he stands for as a person, because that never changes. When guys come into our league, I think that gives them a chance to be a real pro very quickly."

— Kubiak

Film Breakdown: Bercich believes Osborn's quickest substantial impact could likely be as a punt returner, but he noted several elements on game film during which Osborn shined.

"He has this one corner that's 1-on-1 with him, kind of shading to the outside, so he runs up the field, fakes the post, looks over that shoulder and turns and does an out," Bercich said of a play against Louisiana Tech in the Walk-On's Independence Bowl. "Now, this is an NFL-style route. You're going to see this a lot in the NFL. You run that skinny post and then break it out to the sideline. Look at the separation he's able to create on the corner."

Bercich noted that Osborn won't be confused with the tallest guy but pointed out that he plays with strength that helps him break tackles during punt returns and after short passes to gain yards after the catch.

"One of the best parts of any receiver that runs a good, quick slant route is the ability to run after the catch, and you're going to see how this 5-foot-11, 203-pound receiver can run," Bercich said of a play against Pittsburgh. "There he is running a quick slant, great throw, breaks the tackle of both the corner and the safety to bring it into the end zone. That was one of my favorite plays, running that little skinny post and then having the courage, knowing you're going to have a corner on one side of you and a safety on the other, but staying on his feet and breaking through that catch and taking it to the end zone."