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Patriots free agency profile: K.J. Osborn adds reliable depth at a position of need

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By: Bernd Buchmasser

Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

New England signed the veteran wide receiver to a one-year free agency contract.

Wide receiver was a definitive need for the New England Patriots entering free agency, but until Sunday all of the moves made at the position were either of the re-signing or of the departing kind. That changed when former Minnesota Vikings wideout K.J. Osborn was signed to a one-year contract to become the group’s first outside addition.

Osborn does lack the star power of other players that changed teams lately such as Calvin Ridley or Keenan Allen, but he does offer experience and a steady track record. With that, let’s take a look at his history, his future, and plenty more.

Hard facts

Name: K.J. Osborn

Position: Wide receiver

Opening day age: 27 (6/10/1997)

Size: 5-foot-11, 203 pounds

Contract status: 1 year, $4M base value ($6M max)


A graduate of the prestigious IMG Academy, Osborn started his college career at the University of Buffalo. Appearing in 38 games after redshirting as a true freshman, he caught 96 passes for 1,490 yards and 12 touchdowns. Following his graduation, he transferred to Miami where he served as a captain and led the Hurricanes with 50 receptions for 547 yards and five scores.

Osborn eventually was selected 176th overall in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Vikings. Over the subsequent four seasons, he saw action in a combined 60 regular season and playoff games and hauled in 160 passes for 1,865 total yards and 16 touchdowns. Additionally, he also saw action as a punt and kickoff returner.

2023 review

Stats: 16 games (12 starts) | 821 offensive snaps (73.2%), 1 special teams snap (0.2%) | 73 targets, 48 catches (65.8%), 540 yards, 3 TDs | 1 fumble (0 lost)

Season recap: A regular contributor in each of the previous two seasons, Osborn entered the final year of his rookie contract projected to serve as Minnesota’s third wide receiver option. But even with All-Pro Justin Jefferson and first-round rookie Jordan Addison in the same room, he ended up seeing regular opportunities and finished the year ranked second at his position with 821 of 1,121 offensive snaps (73.2%).

He likely would have seen even more action had he not sustained a concussion in Week 9 against Atlanta that kept him out of the following week’s game as well. Still, when he was available, Osborn was a reliable player for the Vikings.

Playing both inside and outside, and seeing a significant number of his touches coming on crossers and against zone coverage looks, he caught 48 passes for 540 yards with three scores. While that statistical output was his since his rookie season, when he was used exclusively on special teams, he was a valuable member of the operation.

That was obvious when Jefferson was forced to miss seven games midway through the season due to a hamstring injury. Osborn’s playing time did not significantly increase during that stretch — the Vikings generally ran plenty of 11 personnel looks regardless of who was available — but his importance did. He did not always deliver as hoped when elevated to a first or second option, but nonetheless was solid throughout his fourth NFL campaign.

Patriots preview

What will be his role? The Patriots do not have a clear No. 1 wide receiver on their roster at the moment, and Osborn will also not fill this role. That said, he should continue to be a productive player as a second or third option. As such, he will primarily line up as a Z while also offering the versatility to move elsewhere in the lineup as well.

What is his growth potential? Osborn has made strides throughout his career, and might continue doing that following his change of scenery. Given his background in a West Coast-caliber offense, the transition to Alex Van Pelt’s unit in New England should be rather seamless — possibly allowing him to grow comfortable quickly. If so, he should at least be able to stay on the same level of play he had showcased in Minnesota.

Does he have positional versatility? As noted above, Osborn projects primarily as a Z in the mold of Kendrick Bourne. That said, he also has plenty of reps at the X-receiver spot and even in the slot. Additionally, he offers plenty of special teams experience from early on in his career: the 26-year-old has 11 punt and 14 kickoff returns on his résumé, averaging 4.5 and 21.6 yards per runback, respectively.

What does it mean for New England’s salary cap? With the base value of Osborn’s contract reported at $4 million, he might take over a bigger portion of New England’s salary cap than all but two of the team’s recent signings (QB Jacoby Brissett, OT Chukwuma Okorafor). Of course, his cap hit overall will still be manageable even if it comes close to that base value.

What does it mean for New England’s draft outlook? Even with Osborn now in the mix, the Patriots will likely draft at least one wide receiver — and early. The X-receiver spot, after all, remains a barren wasteland of talent on paper. While the newest addition to the room has the versatility to help, he does not have the skillset to become a true WR1 and would be better suited as a complementary option.

How safe is his roster spot? Knowing the guarantees in Osborn’s contract will help answer that question. Looking at the raw numbers and the Patriots’ wide receiver group as a whole, however, we can make an educated guess: his spot on the roster looks relatively safe at the moment, especially with all of the few other starter-caliber options — Kendrick Bourne, DeMario Douglas, JuJu Smith-Schuster — having injury concerns.

One-sentence verdict: Osborn may not be a particularly “sexy” pickup, but it is not hard to see why the Patriots would value his reliability both on and off the field.

Originally posted on Pats Pulpit