2020 Fantasy Preview: Minnesota Vikings

Mike Miklius continues the 2020 Team Preview series with a fantasy-focused look at the Minnesota Vikings.

Minnesota Vikings

 

The Minnesota Vikings finished 10-6 last season on the back of a strong rushing attack, a stout defense, and a passing attack that avoided unnecessary mistakes. The offense stays mostly the same, save for one big change: Stefon Diggs is gone. Minnesota will now rely on Adam Thielen as their top pass-catcher while rookie Justin Jefferson should line up opposite him. If the defense stays where it was last year and Dalvin Cook stays healthy, the Vikings should again be in the playoff picture in 2020. An injury to Kirk Cousins, Cook, or Thielen would put the team in a tough spot though, as this team is very top-heavy in talent on offense.

 

Quarterback

 

Kirk Cousins

ADP: 160.6, QB22

Kirk Cousins was the definition of a game manager last year for Minnesota. I don’t mean that to be an insult: Cousins wasn’t asked to pass much, but he played smart football and minimized mistakes all season long. He completed nearly 70% of his passes while only throwing six interceptions. As a Bears fan, I would love to have Cousins in Chicago this year. The issue, however, is that Cousins has a low ceiling. He threw for 225 yards per game last year and his top weapon left town. Given the slow developmental curve of rookies, I don’t expect Jefferson to be an immediate replacement for Diggs. I like Cousins in real life, but he is a low-reward option for fantasy teams in 2020.

 

Best Case Scenario

The strong running game opens up passing lanes and Cousins repeatedly finds Thielen breaking open. Jefferson develops quickly and puts up 1,000 yards of his own. Cousins finishes with 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns as the offense cruises.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Cousins clearly misses Diggs, and things get worse when Cook and Thielen each miss some time. Cousins barely manages 3,000 yards as the offense struggles to score points all year. The lack of weapons becomes frustrating and Cousins’ interception numbers balloon.

 

2020 Projection: 330 completions, 480 attempts, 3,600 yards, 25 touchdowns, 7 interceptions

 

Running Back

 

Dalvin Cook

ADP: 6, RB5

We’ve been waiting since the earliest flashes of 2017 to see what a healthy Dalvin Cook season would look like. Well, we basically got it — save for two missed contests. Cook was a big factor in both the run and passing game and, quite frankly, the offense would have taken a big step back without him. Still, I’m left wondering if Cook will hold up week to week as he has missed 19 games through his first three seasons, and his stats also trailed off in a big way towards the end of the season. Cook definitely has some risk/reward to him and it feels like right now he is being bought at his ceiling. Still, he’s a good option as an early to mid-first round selection this year, as running backs are in high-demand and he possesses a true three-down role.

 

Best Case Scenario

Cook stays healthy all season and takes another step forward from 2019, proving that he belongs in the conversation with Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley for the number one pick. He breaks 1,500 rushing yards and 2,000 yards from scrimmage to go along with 15 touchdowns on his way to an MVP-worthy performance.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Cook gets banged up early and ends up in a timeshare with the team hoping to keep him fresh for the playoffs. He plays effectively, but limited touches lower his ceiling and he fails to reach 1,500 yards from scrimmage. With his rookie contract coming to an end, the team ponders letting him go to avoid overpaying a running back of questionable health.

 

2020 Projection: 280 carries, 1,260 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns; 70 targets, 56 receptions, 570 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns

 

Alexander Mattison

ADP: 95.3, RB42

Alexander Mattison was one of the most interesting backups in the league last year because he was backing up Dalvin Cook. Mattison saw 100 carries and a dozen targets and looked effective in his limited role. Mattison won’t have major value if Cook stays healthy, but he will sky-rocket if Cook gets hurt OR if he holds out. If either were to happen, Mattison would become a top-15 play at running back each week. Given how much time Cook misses, I’m definitely investing in Mattison as well — just in case.

 

Best Case Scenario

Cook goes down early and Mattison takes over the backfield. He proves to be an excellent runner and the team doesn’t miss a beat. Mattison finishes his second season with 1,000 rushing yards and the starting job for 2021 as Cook leaves in free agency.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Mattison is trapped behind a dominant Cook and sees his workload decrease from last year. He takes a series here or there, but he fails to gain traction in his limited work. Mattison remains the tantalizing backup on your bench without much to show for it.

 

2020 Projection: 125 carries, 560 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns; 24 targets, 18 receptions, 150 receiving yards

 

Wide Receiver

 

Adam Thielen

ADP: 28.9, WR9

Following huge seasons in 2017 and 2018, expectations were sky-high for Adam Thielen again in 2019. Instead, he disappointed fantasy players as he slogged through various injuries. Thielen seemed like he wasn’t healthy for almost the whole year — until the playoffs. When he is healthy, though, Thielen has proven himself a capable weapon. With Diggs gone, he is the only game in town. If this was a higher volume passing attack, Thielen would be a first-round lock. Instead, he comes at what I think is a fair price. The biggest hesitation is what happened to Diggs last year: Thielen went down and Diggs failed to truly capitalize. Could we see the same, but in reverse, in 2020?

 

Best Case Scenario

Thielen is fully healthy and back to his dominant form on his way to his best career season. He sees 175 targets, 125 receptions, 1,500 yards, and 12 touchdowns while fighting Dalvin Cook for honors as the team’s offensive MVP.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Much like Diggs last year, Thielen struggles to stay consistent despite the lack of competition on the team. He still hits 100 receptions and 1,000 yards, but he becomes impossible to predict week to week. 

 

2020 Projection: 160 targets, 115 receptions, 1400 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns

 

Justin Jefferson

ADP: 123.7, WR47

Justin Jefferson was one of many talented receivers coming out of the 2020 NFL Draft, and plenty of experts tout what he could become in the league. I’ll never say a rookie can’t, but here is a simple truth: 51% of receivers taken in the first round never put up a 1,000-yd season in their careers. Last year, Marquise Brown and N’Keal Harry had 584 and 104 yards respectively. The year before that, D.J. Moore and Calvin Ridley had 788 yards and 821 yards. I could keep going, but the truth is: rookie receivers are not a smart bet in fantasy. The opportunity potential for Jefferson is massive, with little to no competition behind Thielen in the receiving corps. But with a crazy offseason, a low volume passing offense, and a clear alpha receiver ahead of him in Thielen, Jefferson may not amount to more than a streaming flex option.

 

Best Case Scenario

Jefferson gels quickly as a starter opposite Thielen, and he thrives against opponents’ number two corners. He manages 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns and the rest of the league knows it: they screwed up by not picking this kid.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Jefferson struggles to gain traction after a shortened offseason, and he spends the first few weeks coming off the bench. Despite improvements, he struggles to get a firm foothold before the season is over and barely manages to accrue 500 yards.

 

2020 Projection: 80 targets, 54 receptions, 650 yards, 4 touchdowns

 

Tight End

 

Irv Smith Jr.

ADP: 290, TE24

Irv Smith Jr. was one of my three favorites rookie tight ends heading into the 2019 season, but he was far behind TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant in terms of name recognition. That should change in 2020. Smith played well in 2019, totaling 47 targets, 36 receptions, and 311 yards in 14 games. That’s not bad for a rookie, and not far behind Hockenson (367 yards) or Fant (562 yards). Smith had the additional obstacle of Kyle Rudolph ahead of him on the depth chart as well. What should we expect from Smith in 2020? I expect Rudolph’s role to continue to decrease as Smith progresses in year two. Smith should see an increase in all important receiving stats as the Vikings like using the tight end, and Diggs’ departure opens up plenty of targets. Minnesota’s frequent usage of two tight end sets should ensure that Smith sees the field frequently, and his competition for targets is relatively weak.

 

Best Case Scenario

Smith takes another step forward and usurps Rudolph as the team’s top option at tight end. He doubles up his stats from 2019 — becoming a viable fantasy option moving forward. He particularly capitalizes in the endzone, totaling ten touchdowns thanks to teams stacking the box against the run game.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Last year proves to be the expectation rather than a jumping-off point. Smith sees modest gains in his volume and effectiveness, but he still fails to become the team’s top option at the position. He’s a better real-life threat than a fantasy option.

 

2020 Projection: 80 targets, 60 receptions, 540 yards, 4 TD

 

 

Photo by Rich Gabrielson/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

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