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Minnesota Vikings – 2019 A Look Inside

Contributions from Joshua Hudson, Chris Tyler, & Joe Zollo
When the Vikings fired Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo following their Week 14 loss, their offense moved to more of a ground-and-pound approach under interim (now current) OC Kevin Stefanski. So it’s no surprise that their first four picks in the 2019 Draft will be able to aid their continued approach to this style of play. Their selection of Garrett Bradbury bolsters two positions: Center (he was the best Center in the draft) and Guard (the Vikings can move last year’s Center, Pat Elflein, to Guard). Irv Smith Jr. is a two-way Tight End, skilled as both a blocker and a pass catcher, Alexander Mattison is a big back, listed at 221 pounds, with the ability to break tackles (third most in FBS in 2018), and Guard Dru Samia has the ability to start opposite Elflein after the release of Mike Remmers or provide much needed depth on the line. Their surplus of late round picks provided depth to the defense and the wide receiver corps, both of which are top heavy with some of the best in the NFL. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
After guaranteeing QB Kirk Cousins’ entire three year contract, it’s safe to say the Vikings were disappointed with their 2018 finish. Fantasy owners still reaped the benefits, as Cousins not only finished with his fourth consecutive 4,000-yard season, he hit the 30 touchdown mark for the first time in his career. He fell from the top 10 at the position, but a QB11 finish is hardly a drop to obscurity. RB Dalvin Cook (hopefully) is healthy all year and is able to live up to the expectations the team and prognosticators across the country have bestowed upon him. If he can, you’re likely getting a top 10 back for the cost of a second rounder. Take this into consideration: Cook was tied for second with Saints RB Alvin Kamara in yards per carry on outside zone rushes a year ago (5.4). Another fun fact: according to Pro Football Focus, newly drafted Center, Garrett Bradbury, logged the most reps among this year’s linemen class in outside zone runs. Kyle Rudolph had a top 10 finish at TE, thanks solely to a Week 16 bonanza (35.20 fantasy points). He was TE14 heading into Championship Week, so don’t be fooled come Draft Day. Then there is arguably the best duo of Wide Receivers in the league — Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Both finished in the top 11 last season. Both topped 140 targets and each scored nine touchdowns. But Thielen’s massive decline in production to end the season (10-137-0 in Weeks 15-17) compared to Diggs’s (12-106-3) has some thinking Diggs may overtake Thielen as the true number one receiver in this offense. Time will tell, but one thing is certain — the Vikings sport two top 15 fantasy wide receivers, something only to which the Rams can lay claim. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
Kirk Cousins just screams upside. He has had seasons where he looks like a Pro Bowl player, and others where he could legitimately be replaced with Brucie from The Longest Yard and you would not be able to tell the difference. Cousins currently sits at QB22, which means he is not being drafted in 10-team leagues. He is only being drafted in leagues with 12 or more teams, unless you are very, VERY dumb and draft two backup QBs. (Please don’t do that. You will be laughed at a tremendous amount and deserve all the hate that is thrown at you.) Cousins finished as QB11 last year, just on the cusp of being a QB1, yet he has fallen to be drafted as QB22 for this upcoming season. Which is completely understandable. He had a down year last year with much better talent than he had in Washington, and it seems his coaching staff is in love with Dalvin Cook. So they are just going to feed him the football, which in turn hurts Kirk Cousins’ stats and fantasy value. But hear me out. Dalvin Cook is a lock to miss at least half the season because he is a walking wine glass- a big factor in drafting Cousins. It is now his second year with this team and QB coach. Kevin Stefanski was just promoted to Offensive Coordinator in the off-season, which should bode well for Cousins since Stefanski should know what Cousins likes and doesn’t like and what he can excel at in his offense. I am not telling you to take Cousins as your QB1- you would be stupid for doing that. What I AM telling you is to please invest in him as a backup. You don’t even need to waste a mid-round pick on him. Wait till the last few rounds of the draft, and then snag him up because he is worth being a backup on your team. – Joe Zollo
I feel as if I should start by saying how much I like Adam Thielen as a player. He’s a great story — from Minnesota, played his college ball at Minnesota State, was an undrafted free agent signed by the Vikings, and rose to the top of the food chain among receivers in the NFL. And he’ll continue to be a standout receiver in the league for the next several years. But at his current ADP (WR11), I think there’s major downside by drafting Thielen this year. Last year was Thielen’s first with more than five touchdowns. (I’m sure he sent Kirk Cousins a big ol’ fruit basket. Maybe with rotten fruit since the Vikings missed the playoffs, but I digress.) Of the top 20 receivers in Fantasy last year, two spent over 30% of their weeks as a WR3 (WR25-36). One was Adam Thielen. (The other was DeAndre Hopkins, if you can believe that.) From Weeks 13-16, Thielen was WR36. Last season, Thielen had the lowest yards after the catch per reception and the second lowest yards per reception of his career. Once the Vikings moved to feature Dalvin Cook more after the promotion of Kevin Stefanski, Thielen became a chain mover. He got his targets, receptions, and yards, but lacked everything else. The point I’m getting at is Thielen won’t live up to his draft stock. I’m sure he’ll top 90 catches and may even hit 1,200 yards (his career yards/reception). But with only four touchdowns, that’s good for 234 fantasy points, which would’ve been WR15 last year. I know it’s not a huge drop off from where he’s being drafted, But if I’m drafting someone to be my WR1, I want to be able to trust he doesn’t veer from that path. If I’m in a 12-14 team league, I’d rather take a guy that I know is probably a WR2, but has the upside of a WR1- a la Diggs. You would feel better with Thielen as your number two, believe me. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
Over the last two seasons, the most trustworthy Viking has easily been Adam Thielen. But after the team fired John DeFilippo last year and placed the interim tag on Kevin Stefanski, the offense, well, changed. They used Dalvin Cook more- not just in the running game, but also in the passing game. He became the focal point of the offense. Oh, you think I’m going to write a couple of paragraphs on how you can trust Dalvin Cook? He who has only played in 15 games the past two seasons? I mean, I could. And I have some great info for why you shouldn’t be worried about drafting him in the 2nd round. But alas, this column is about the other stud receiver on the Vikings — Stefon Diggs. See, I’ve noticed something over the past few years on the Vikings: Diggs is their guy. He is their ‘X’ receiver. He is their touchdown guy. Before last year, Thielen never had more than five touchdowns in any season. Diggs had eight in 2017 (in only 14 games) and nine last year (in 15 games). Kirk Cousins had his first year with 30 or more touchdown passes last season, largely because he’s never had as productive a duo as Thielen and Diggs. Well, not just productive. They’re two of the best route runners in the league. Looking at Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception module, Diggs was fifth in success rate versus man coverage, eighth against zone coverage, and seventh when dealing with press coverage. His biggest weak point was against double teams — only a 60.9% success rate (I should also mention he fared better than Thielen in that metric). Per Pro Football Focus, Diggs finished first in the league in 2017 in contested catch rate (50/50 balls) at 64%. In 2018, he also had a 64% contested catch rate, except he finished second to DeAndre Hopkins. For a guy that’s only 6’0”, that’s a very impressive stat. I bring all of this up to illustrate why I think Stefon Diggs is really the best receiver on the Vikings. Thielen isn’t going to be short on catches or yards — he’s led the team the last two years in yards per route run, catches, and receiving yards — but when a team shifts their focus to running the ball more, that means fewer routes for receivers. Add in their selection of Alabama TE Irv Smith Jr. and subsequent four-year extension for incumbent Kyle Rudolph, and it’s clear the Vikings are going to run the ball. It could mean more 21 and 22 personnel looks. As a result, my belief is that Diggs, not Thielen, will be the one on the field for most of those sets. That should keep his touchdown numbers around eight, while Thielen’s regress back to the four-five he’s had in previous years. But the biggest reason I trust Diggs more than Thielen? Diggs is being drafted as a WR2, Thielen is being drafted as a WR1 in 12-team leagues. I know I’ll get a minimum of WR2 production from Diggs — he was a WR1 or WR2 53.3% of the time last year — while I have to pay a higher price for Thielen and he was a WR3 31.25% of the time last year. Fantasy Football drafts are all about value. Diggs’ value is more trustworthy in the long run. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
The former Boise State Bronco Alexander Mattison is a special kind of football player. During his time in college, he accumulated 2,829 rushing yards and 511 receiving yards with a combined 34 touchdowns. Mattison, in his last season with the Broncos, rushed for 1,415 yards — eighth in the country last year. He’s built perfectly at 5’’11” 221 pounds. At the Combine, he ran a  4.67 40, but had one of the quickest short shuttle times among the class. With Dalvin Cook having an on-again/off-again relationship with injuries, this is where Alexander Mattison fits into the offense. Mattison effectively replaces Latavius Murray, but he’s a great runner that might get a lot more carries than he may expect. He can also catch out of the backfield and be very explosive as a receiver. Mattison has the potential to light up defenses from a fantasy perspective as early as this season. – Chris Tyler
It was tough trying to find a sleeper for the Vikings. Many would say Kirk Cousins because he is QB22, but I have don’t have much faith in him- even though he is the upside on this team. Diggs and Theilen are taken too high and Dalvin Cook is being taken as an RB2. Laquon Treadwell is garbage and Kyle Rudolph scares me with Irv Smith in the mix. Who does that narrow it down to? You guessed it, Dillon Mitchell. Who is Dillon Mitchell, you may ask? I didn’t know either until I looked at their depth chart. Mitchell was a seventh round draft pick in the 2019 draft who played his college ball at Oregon, a very good school. He is 6’1, 197 pounds and runs a 4.46 40-yard dash. One NFC scout said “he has some talent, but he has to grow up and take this serious.” That does scare me a little bit, but clearly scouts see he has the talent (just not the work ethic) to play in this league, which is mostly why he fell to the seventh round. Mitchell had almost 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns for Oregon in 2018, and he averaged 15.8 yards per reception. The skill is there, but it’s a matter of if he has the work ethic to slide up to WR4, if not WR3 on the depth chart. – Joe Zollo
One name- Danielle Hunter. Hunter finished first among defensive linemen in the 2018 fantasy football season and it wasn’t even close- he beat out second place finisher Aaron Donald by 12 points. It was a career year for Hunter in every major statistical category with careers highs in solo tackles, combined tackles, and sacks. One big red flag- he played the same amount of games in 2017 and didn’t eclipse 100 points. He is not very consistent at all, and that is why it should be “buyer beware” when it comes to Hunter. I think he is a phenomenal talent, just be sure to have a solid backup in case he doesn’t perform to last years standards. The only other name to focus on during the draft with this defense is Harrison Smith. Smith is as consistent as they come, missing just two games over the last three seasons and racking up anywhere between 60-70 tackles in each season. He did not finish as a DB1 this past season, but did finish twelfth among his peers. Smith has fallen off from a low DB1 to a high DB2 but is well worth a pick. Stash him as a backup who can produce DB1 numbers for you in favorable match-ups throughout the season. – Joe Zollo