Rookie receiver Jalen Nailor claims he’s the fastest player on Vikings roster
“I feel like any time I touch the ball, I can take it the distance,” Nailor said.
ST. PAUL — There are quite a few speedy guys on the Minnesota Vikings. The list includes wide receivers Justin Jefferson, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Dan Chisena; running backs Dalvin Cook and Kene Nwangwu, and cornerback Kris Boyd.
But a rookie says he’s the fastest player on the team.
“I say I’m first,” wide receiver Jalen Nailor said. “I give myself number one. I definitely have got to go with myself. I’m self-confident. I believe in my speed.”
Nailor, a sixth-round draft pick from Michigan State, has run 40 yards in 4.39 seconds. He won a pair Nevada state sprint titles as a senior at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas in 2018, running the 100 meters in 10.7 seconds and the 200 meters in 21.57, both school records.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins talked last week about an “elite group” of Vikings to which a T-shirt is awarded to any player who has been clocked at 21 mph while with the team. Nailor said he was clocked at 23.5 mph before coming to Minnesota, though he has yet to get his first NFL reading.
Despite Nailor’s credentials, his claim as fastest Vikings player could create some controversy.
“That’s a bold statement from a rookie,” backup quarterback Sean Mannion said. “I love his confidence, though. But I think the fastest guy on the team, that would be a hotly debated topic. Let me put it this way, if he said that in the locker room, there would be a lot of pushback.”
Nevertheless, Mannion doesn’t deny that Nailor is fast. That has been on display during the first two weeks of training camp, including in a recent practice rep in which Nailor ran by rookie cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. and scored on a long touchdown pass.
“Jalen’s done a lot of great stuff,” Mannion said.
Nailor had an injury-riddled career at Michigan State, playing in just 26 games over four years and never more than nine in a season. But he caught 86 passes for 1,454 yards and a 16.9-yard average. He was at his best as a deep threat in 2020, when he averaged 19.8 yards per catch, and in 2021, when he averaged 18.8.
“I feel like any time I touch the ball, I can take it the distance,” Nailor said. “I just feel confident in myself with the ball in my hands that I can make something happen.”
Nailor is scheduled to make his preseason debut Sunday, and he couldn’t think of a better place for that debut. The Vikings will face the Raiders in Nailor’s hometown of Las Vegas.
Nailor is a native of Palmdale, Calif., but moved with his family to Las Vegas for high school after he was accepted at Bishop Gorman, which has one of the nation’s best football programs and also good academics. The Gaels won mythical national championships with Nailor on the team in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
“That’s really exciting, being able to go home and play in front of family members and friends,” he said. “That’s going to be real fun for them and for myself. … (When the schedule came out), I called my family right away and they were super pumped.”
Still, it’s a work trip for Nailor. He is in a battle to make the 53-man roster on a team with one of the NFL’s deepest group of receivers. Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Osborn and Smith-Marsette are locks to make the team, Bisi Johnson looks to be in good position and there figures to be one more roster spot open after that.
“I think it’s going really well,” Nailor said of training camp. “I’m just trying to stack each day, one at a time. I’m just here trying to do the best I can to make the team and help out any way I can.”
Nailor’s speed should help his cause. And Mannion said he’s making good strides in adjusting to the NFL.
“You can tell he’s just playing faster and faster,” Mannion said. “No pun intended.”
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