If their choice of new head coach -- former Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell -- is any indicator, the Vikings are going to look quite a bit different than they have the past few seasons. One of the most run-heavy teams in the league under Mike Zimmer could look to open things up in the passing game, and that should make Justin Jefferson's partisans very happy.
Record: 8 - 9 (19)
PPG: 25.0 (14)
YPG: 362.8 (12)
Pass YPG: 249.3 (11)
Rush YPG: 113.5 (17)
PAPG: 35.5 (11)
RAPG: 26.4 (16)
2021 Fantasy finishes
QB: Kirk Cousins QB9
RB: Dalvin Cook RB16, Alexander Mattison RB37
WR: Justin Jefferson WR4, Adam Thielen WR28, K.J. Osborn WR39
TE: Tyler Conklin* TE16
*No longer with team
Number to know: 51%
That's the Vikings pass rate on first and second down when the score is within six points in either direction last season. That's a bit of a convoluted stat on the surface, but it's pretty simple, really: It basically tells you how often a team threw the ball when they didn't necessarily need to.
And the Vikings don't rank as low as you probably think, given their smashmouth approach during the Mike Zimmer era. They ranked 14th in the league in that stat, fitting in with the roughly coin-flip's chance of a run or pass. But the Rams, where Kevin O'Connell spent last season, hd the sixth-highest pass rate in those situations last season, at 57% -- they didn't throw as often as the Vikings did overall because they found themselves in so few obvious passing situations, chasing the score or facing third and longs.
O'Connell isn't going to come in and make this the Rams offense overnight, but I think it's fair to assume we'll see the Vikings throwing more often on early downs this season, and just in general as well. That could mean huge things for Justin Jefferson, as we saw with Cooper Kupp for the Rams last season -- Kupp was one of the only wide receivers in the league with a higher target share than Jefferson, and he was also one of the few who outscored Jefferson. That's not to say Jefferson is going to replicate Kupp's 2020 season, obviously -- even Kupp is unlikely to replicate his 2020 season. And there are ways that this offensive change could hold Jefferson back ever so slightly -- the Vikings had three or more wide receivers on the field for 69% of their pass plays last season, while the Rams did so on 93.8%, and teams tend to spread targets around the more wide receivers are on the field.
However, Jefferson has emerged as one of the very best wide receivers in the game after just two seasons, and Kirk Cousins is more than good enough to keep him happy (more often than not, anyways), and a more pass-happy offense should serve them both well. Jefferson isn't guaranteed to be the No. 1 WR in Fantasy, but I'd say his chances are as good as anyone but Kupp.
1. (32) Lewis Cine, DB
2. (42) Andrew Booth, CB
2. (59) Ed Ingram, G
3. (66) Brian Asamoah, LB
4. (118) Akayleb Evans, DB
5. (165) Esezi Otomewo, DT
5. (169) Ty Chandler, RB
6. (184) Vederian Lowe, OL
6. (191) Jalen Nailor, WR
7. (227) Nick Muse, TE
DE Za'Darius Smith, RT Jesse Davis, LB Jordan Hicks, WR Albert Wilson, CB Chandon Sullivan, DL Harrison Phillips
TE Tyler Conklin, S Xavier Woods, C Mason Cole, LB Nick Vigil
7 carries, 4 RB targets, 15 WR targets, 96 TE targets
Chris Towers' projections
|QB||Kirk Cousins||PA: 598, YD: 4422, TD: 33, INT: 14; RUSH -- ATT: 27, YD: 95, TD: 1|
|RB||Dalvin Cook||CAR: 270, YD: 1216, TD: 10, TAR: 60, REC: 45, YD: 359, TD: 2|
|RB||Alexander Mattison||CAR: 153, YD: 689, TD: 5, TAR: 30, REC: 26, YD: 184, TD: 1|
|WR||Justin Jefferson||TAR: 161, REC: 103, YD: 1534, TD: 10|
|WR||Adam Thielen||TAR: 117, REC: 78, YD: 949, TD: 6|
|WR||K.J. Osborn||TAR: 88, REC: 57, YD: 600, TD: 4|
|TE||Irv Smith||TAR: 90, REC: 65, YD: 678, TD: 4|
Can Justin Jefferson be the No. 1 WR in Fantasy?
Well, he was No. 4 last season, though he finished more than 100 points shy of Cooper Kupp overall, so he has some ground to make up. Jefferson is already among the league leaders in target share, but after having double-digit targets just three times in his first eight games, he topped that mark in all but two of the final nine, putting up a 117-catch, 1,859-yard, 11-TD pace from Week 10 on. The targets, catches, and yards should be there, so his chances of being WR1 will come down to whether he can usurp Adam Thielen as the go-to red zone option for good. I'm not betting against him.
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One sleeper, one breakout and one bust
Irv Smith TE
CIN Cincinnati • #81
Age: 24 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Truthfully, the best sleeper on this roster remains Alexander Mattison, if you define sleeper as "mid-to-late round pick with league-winning potential if things break right." Smith doesn't have that kind of potential, but I'm excited to see what the 24-year-old can do with little competition for snaps following Tyler Conklin's departure in free agency. Smith hasn't done much more than flash occasionally in the NFL, but he's big and he's fast and has the opportunity to emerge as the No. 3 option in this passing game. Conklin turned that role into 61 catches, 593 yards, and three touchdowns, but I'm betting Smith can best that. There's top-12 potential here, for sure.
Kirk Cousins QB
MIN Minnesota • #8
Age: 34 • Experience: 12 yrs.
When things are going well for Cousins, things tend to go very well for him, so the hope here is that O'Connell can do more to put the Vikings offense in position for things to go well. Cousins seems well equipped to take advantage of a more pass-happy offense, averaging 7.9 yards per attempt with a 6.2% touchdown rate over the past three years. If he can sustain anything like that efficiency while throwing over 600 times, a 5,000-yard, 40-touchdown season is not at all out of the question.
Adam Thielen WR
CAR Carolina • #19
Age: 32 • Experience: 10 yrs.
I could have put Dalvin Cook here, seeing as I haven't really discussed him much, but I just don't think there's much risk there, really. Sure, the overall rushing volume could be a bit lower, and his injury history makes him risky regardless. But Cook is going to be the lead back on a good offense, he's a proven three-down producer who could possibly even benefit from a bigger role in the passing game if it's there for him. Injury risk here is significant because Cook has missed time pretty much every year of his career -- recurring shoulder issues are especially worrisome -- but when he's on the field, he's about as good as anyone.
So, I'll go with Thielen here for the second season in a row. I was half-right about him last season, as Thielen struggled to stay healthy and posted his lowest yards per catch and target of his career. However, he managed to find the end zone 10 times in 13 games, so it didn't matter much; he was still excellent for Fantasy when healthy. However, he's entering his age-32 season, has missed four or more games in two of three seasons, and has seen his production decline significantly since 2018. The touchdowns have saved him the past two seasons, but if he regresses there, there isn't much to fall back on.