EAGAN – On Tuesday KJ Osborn said that anyone can block if they try hard enough, even football reporters. He’s giving us way too much credit. But the Minnesota Vikings are going to need all hands on deck when it comes to their running scheme because increasing usage of three-receiver personnel groupings puts more pressure on receivers to block.
The Los Angeles Rams used “11” personnel more than anyone in the league and involved their receivers so much that superstar Cooper Kupp presented run blocking ideas to the coaching staff.
“Cooper would come to us early in the week with run ideas… where he was involved blocking,” offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said. “That’s just what kind of psycho Cooper Kupp is. He listened when the line coach was giving his run presentation as far as techniques, blocking. He asked questions.”
“For a guy who’s leading the league in receiving and is coming in saying, ‘I think this run would be good. I can help seal the edge right here,’ it’s rare.”
You can bet Phillips has told the Vikings’ receivers that story a few times. Per Pro Football Focus, Kupp ranked as the fourth highest graded blocking receiver and fellow Ram Robert Woods scored the NFL’s best grade. Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson were both in the top 15 and Osborn rated mid-pack.
Of course, that was when the Vikings were using big bodied tight ends and a fullback to move men. Osborn was a run blocker on 23 plays last season, which was 48th among receivers. The combination of Vikings backup tight ends Luke Stocker, Ben Ellefson and Chris Herndon totaled 255 run snaps. Los Angeles used No. 2 or 3 tight ends on 179 and that’s partly because Tyler Higbee missed two games, meaning they put the onus much more on receivers, sometimes requiring them to take on a linebacker or defensive lineman.
Osborn is ready to take on more of a blocking role when called upon.
Scroll to Continue
“It’s about effort and want-to, man,” Osborn said. “Just getting in the way, getting your hands inside…In our offence, after the running backs break through to that second level, that third level, if the receivers can sustain those blocks, that’s where those big plays happen and that’s when sparks go .”
The Vikings may be leaning more into passing this year but improvement on the ground is necessary. They ranked 28th in Expected Points Added (per Pro-Football Reference) and 16th in run blocking.
Osborn said that the commitment to blocking goes beyond the run game – that big plays in the passing game are often sprung by an extra block as well.
“When Adam or JJ or myself catch a ball, we turn to the next level fast and go into the block,” Osborn said. “I catch one, make one miss and JJ is blocking the safety, that can go from a 15-yard gain to a touchdown. So that’s something we’re out here practicing as well, trying to get those big plays.”
Related: Where does the Vikings roster rank among NFC contenders?
Related: For Justin Jefferson, the next hurdle is doing it again