See more of the story

Receiver K.J. Osborn is making a strong case in Vikings training camp to keep his No. 3 role in head coach Kevin O'Connell's new offense.

He's made a variety of plays in camp that reflect the versatile ways he could be deployed in O'Connell's playbook, which is expected to lean on three-receiver formations. He caught two touchdowns during Monday's padded practice, including a diving grab near the pylon in a red-zone period. A couple days prior, he showed off his speed on a 60-yard deep ball from quarterback Kirk Cousins.

"My whole life everybody said I was too slow," Osborn said. "They were always saying I was too slow. I didn't get a lot of offers because I was slow. Nobody thought I was going to run a [4.48-second 40-yard dash]. So now when my dad and I hear people talk about my speed, we just kind of laugh."

Osborn, the 2020 fifth-round pick who was a two-star recruit out of high school, is used to being overlooked. But his continued playmaking may earn him another sizeable role.

Whether he catches defenses by surprise remains to be seen. Last season, Osborn clocked the third-fastest speed of any Vikings ball carrier when he reached 20.31 miles per hour on a 64-yard touchdown against the Cardinals, according to NFL's Next Gen Stats.

He caught that score — his first of seven touchdowns last season — from the slot, where he's primarily worked in O'Connell's offense this offseason. He's a "big, physical-looking guy" for a slot receiver, offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said, fitting well in an offense expected to run the ball from three-receiver formations and lean on receivers as blockers, too.

"A big, strong guy who is very smart and knows all the positions. He can move around, he can do some of the dirty work in the run game," Phillips said. "He'll surprise you and run by you as well. He's a 4.3-type guy who can really run as well. There's a lot of things to like about K.J."

Osborn has seemingly separated himself in the competition behind Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. The Rams, O'Connell's former team, routinely keep six receivers on the 53-man roster. If the Vikings do the same, that leaves four spots between Osborn, Albert Wilson, Bisi Johnson, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Dan Chisena, Jalen Nailor and others.

This offseason Vikings coaches schooled receivers on multiple positions — split end, flanker, slot — to create versatility for a playbook that will ask them to be heavily involved in the passing and running games. Jefferson, Thielen, Osborn and company could see even more passes thrown their way depending on the recovery of tight end Irv Smith Jr., who had thumb surgery this week and will "hopefully" be ready for Week 1 vs. Green Bay, O'Connell said.

"We're going to throw the ball a lot," Johnson said. "We're going to be in [three-receiver] personnel, so that requires those inside receivers like K.J. and I, and really requires everybody to block. But at the same time, we got some concepts where we're coming across and basically pull blocking like a pulling guard or tackle. It's creative; it's fun."

Whether blocking on a receiver screen or for running back Dalvin Cook, Osborn and reserve receivers will get the less "glitzy" assignments, O'Connell said. But should Osborn win the primary No. 3 job in the offense, other receivers could still mix into the game if their talents are a match for a particular play call that week, according to the head coach.

"He's been really, really good," O'Connell said of Osborn. "There's no other way to describe it early on in camp. What I've challenged him to do is consistency. Can you be that third guy in there and be the guy that we can rely on? He's got really good players competing with him for that role, and it's OK if we end up having multiple roles at that spot."

Cousins quickly recalled both of Osborn's touchdowns in Monday's practice, calling them "big-time plays" from a 25-year-old receiver for whom Cousins said he lobbied the previous coaching staff for more playing time.

"I made a lot of plays my rookie year as well," Osborn said. "Not on game day, but I was out here practicing on the scout team, making a bunch of plays. I think the difference from year one to year two, I tell a lot of people, is just confidence."