Friday, July 6, 2018
Vikings Offensive Profile Under Mike Zimmer
2014-2017 Pass Attempts Rank: 22nd, 32nd, 12th, 21st
2014-2017 Rush Attempts Rank: 18th, 4th, 25th, 2nd
2014-2017 Play Volume Rank: 28th, 28th, 23rd, 7th
2014-2017 Yards Per Play Rank: 26th, 25th, 28th, 13th
Unaccounted for Air Yards from 2017 (Rank): 336 (30th)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2017 (Rank): 195 (9th)
Projected Starting Lineup
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Passing Game Outlook
Kirk Cousins landed a three-year, $84 million deal from the Vikings after three straight top-eight QB1 seasons in Washington, where he ranked 12th, 6th, and 8th in the NFL in pass attempts. Volume will be Cousins’ biggest fantasy obstacle in Minnesota. Mike Zimmer’s top-five defense keeps his team in run-friendly game scripts; the Vikings’ average ranking in pass attempts is 22nd in Zimmer’s four years as coach. Cousins will have to compensate with efficiency, conveniently a strong suit of both Cousins and his new weapons. Over the last three years, Cousins ranks fourth in the NFL in yards per attempt (7.8), sixth in passer rating (97.5), and ninth in touchdown passes (81). Adam Thielen (No. 7) and Stefon Diggs (No. 19) both finished top 20 among 93 qualified receivers in PFF’s Yards Per Route Run efficiency metric last season, and Kyle Rudolph is an efficient red-zone finisher. New Vikings OC John DeFilippo was Carson Wentz’s position coach during Wentz’s extreme-efficiency 2017 campaign and helped design an offense potent enough for Nick Foles to win Super Bowl MVP. Albeit in a small, nine-game sample, Cousins has been more efficient playing indoors (100.7 rating, 8.30 YPA) than outdoors (92.4, 7.63) and will now play beneath Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium dome. Elite defenses like Zimmer’s can give offenses shorter fields, spiking TD rates. Even if Cousins loses volume, I like him as a safe-floor QB1 with the highest touchdown upside of his career.
Adam Thielen built on his flash-filled 2016 season for a monster 2017 breakout, finishing eighth among NFL receivers in targets (143) and catches (91), and fifth in yards (1,277). In the playoffs, the Saints worried about Thielen enough to shadow him with Marshon Lattimore. A onetime preseason star who went undrafted out of Minnesota State in 2013, Thielen has developed into one of the league’s premier route runners. Even if Thielen loses 2018 catches and yards, he can compensate with positive-touchdown regression after scoring just four TDs despite leading the Vikings in red-zone targets (17). Flukily, Thielen caught 1-of-8 targets (12.5%) inside the 10-yard line. Thielen’s catch rate was a sparkling 67.2% everywhere else on the field, and he corralled 3-of-5 targets inside the ten in the previous year. Thielen ran 51.1% his 2017 routes in the slot, but also showed an ability to win on the perimeter. His averages were 2.11 yards per route run and 8.46 yards per target in the slot, with 2.55 YPRR and 10.5 YPT outside.
Stefon Diggs exploded out of the 2017 gates as the overall WR1 by nearly three PPR points per game in Weeks 1-4, only to suffer a debilitating Week 5 groin injury on Soldier Field’s long-problematic grass. It was his second groin injury in as many seasons; Diggs admitted he was “never the same” after straining his groin in Week 4 of 2016. Diggs missed two games and was the PPR WR24 from Weeks 8-17, never again clearing 80 yards after doing so three times in the first month. Diggs saved his fantasy bottom line with a career-high eight TDs, finding pay dirt on 12.5% of his receptions after scoring at a 5.1% rate in his first two years. 100% in the playoffs, Diggs went off for 14 catches and 207 yards against the Saints and Eagles, most memorably house calling Minnesota’s 61-yard game winner in the Divisional Round. A truly special talent, Diggs’ skill set is arguably the NFL’s closest to Antonio Brown. Even if his scoring rate dips, Diggs offers a mouth-watering ceiling should he finally kick the groin woes in his contract year.
The Vikings’ third-receiver battle between Laquon Treadwell and Kendall Wright will impact Thielen because Thielen will play outside more should Wright claim the job and inside more if Treadwell wins. Jamison Crowder — a slot receiver like Wright — led Cousins’ 2017 Redskins in targets and catches. Wright paced last year’s Bears in receiving, but landed just a one-year, $1 million deal in free agency. Although Wright has been a far superior pro, the Vikings invested a 2016 first-round pick into Treadwell and won’t give up on him at age 23. Treadwell handled all first-team third-receiver reps during OTAs.
Minnesota’s true 2018 third receiver should be Kyle Rudolph, whose 2017 step back was caused by Thielen’s emergence combined with a Week 14 high ankle sprain that forced Rudolph into a Weeks 15-17 part-time role. Rudolph averaged 15.8 yards over Minnesota’s final five games, including playoffs. The injury proved serious enough that Rudolph required post-season surgery, although he practiced fully at OTAs. Even if Rudolph never clears 100 targets again – he’s done so once in his seven-year career – sheer scoring prowess keeps him in the low-end to mid-range TE1 hunt. Rudolph scored 15 touchdowns in the past two seasons. Per PFF’s Scott Barrett, Cousins has targeted tight ends at a career 24.5% rate, well above NFL average (20.8%). It seems like Rudolph has been around forever, but he won’t turn 29 until December. He’s my TE8 overall, and I believe there’s a tier drop after him.
Running Game Outlook
The Vikings traded up for Dalvin Cook at No. 41 overall in last year’s draft, then immediately installed him as their feature back. Before tearing his left ACL in Week 4, Cook was on pace for a Melvin Gordon-like 340 touches. Cook underwent ACL surgery on October 9, giving him nearly 11 months of recovery ahead of Week 1. Vaulted by Zimmer’s elite defense into run-friendly game scripts, the 2017 Vikings finished second in the NFL in rushing attempts even as their offensive line ranked 19th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards and 20th in Pro Football Focus’ yards created before contact. Minnesota’s front five remains a concern, as does Cook’s injury, even amid positive reports. C Pat Elflein is coming off ankle surgery. LG Nick Easton fractured his right ankle in Week 16. RG Mike Remmers is transitioning from tackle to guard, and OTs Riley Reiff and Rashod Hill are sub-par run blockers. Short-yardage specialist Latavius Murray’s return is another anti-Cook factor. Cook is a far-more-preferable RB2 than RB1.
Latavius Murray shook off an early-year ankle injury to take over as Minnesota’s primary inside runner after Cook went down, sharing time with since-departed Jerick McKinnon but averaging 17.9 touches per game in Weeks 5-17. Although Murray managed 3.98 yards per carry, he scored eight TDs and passably ranked 23rd among 47 qualified backs in Football Outsiders’ rushing Success Rate. Albeit in different circumstances than he’ll face behind a healthy Cook, Murray has finished top five in carries inside the five-yard line in consecutive seasons, and at 6-foot-3, 223 is a back multiple NFL coaching staffs have shown a willingness to trust in short-yardage/goal-line situations. New OC DeFilippo’s Eagles offenses used three- and even four-man RBBCs, and DeFilippo coordinated a 2015 Browns offense that distributed touches near evenly between Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. On a Vikings team capable of competing for the league lead in rushing attempts, Murray is a sensible RB5/6 flyer.
2018 Vegas Win Total
The Vikings’ Win Total opened at 10.0 after last year’s 13-3 finish. Minnesota won 11 or more games in two of the past three years under Zimmer, the exception being 2016 when then-starting QB Teddy Bridgewater suffered a devastating pre-season knee injury and trade acquisition Sam Bradford was thrown into the fire behind an historically porous offensive line. Warren Sharp rated this year’s Vikings schedule 12th toughest in football after last year’s club went a fortunate 5-2 in one-score games. I just don’t see Minnesota’s slate as all that difficult against the overrated NFC West and a bad AFC East. Aaron Rodgers’ return makes Green Bay dramatically more dangerous in the NFC North, but Minnesota is clearly superior to the Lions and Bears. The Vikings’ roster is vastly improved from last year’s, swapping out Case Keenum for Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook returning healthy, Kendall Wright upgrading at third receiver, and Sheldon Richardson signed to fortify a terrifying defensive line. The 2018 Vikings are my pick for NFC Super Bowl representatives. Even at their lofty ten-game win total, I’m taking the over.