2020 Minnesota Vikings Outlook
Mike Zimmer will run the Minnesota Vikings franchise for the sixth year. He has a career 57-38-1 record with three playoff appearances (2-3). Over the previous six seasons, Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals. He has 20 years of experience coaching while helping the Cowboys win the Super Bowl in 1995. Minnesota has ten wins or more in three of his last five seasons.
After working as the assistant head coach and offensive advisor for the Vikings in 2019, Gary Kubiak adds offensive coordinator to his job title this year. He's been a head coach in the NFL for ten seasons (82-75), which included a Super Bowl title in 2015. Kubiak has been coaching in the NFL since 1994.
In 2019, the Vikings moved to eight in points scored (407 – 19th in 2018) despite minimal growth in yards gained (16th – 20th in 2018).
Minnesota will use Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer to run the defense in 2020 with Dom Capers overseeing the action as the defensive assistant. Patterson is in charge of the defensive line, and Zimmer will handle the linebackers. Bost coaches ran the same part of the defense since 2014.
Their defense allowed 303 points (5th), an improvement of 38 points from the previous season. Their downside came in yards allowed (14th), which was ten spots lower in the standing from 2018.
After a successful five-year run on defense, Minnesota cleaned house at the cornerback position (CB Trae Waynes, CB Mackensie Alexander, and CB Xavier Rhodes).
Despite owning an edge in speed, Waynes has underperformed his 2015 NFL Draft value (11th pick in the first round). In his five years in the league, he held receivers to low yards per catch, but they've caught more of their chances over the past two seasons.
Alexander is another Vikings' castoff at cornerback. As a rotational player in 2017 and 2018, he held wide receivers to low yards per catch with minimal damage in touchdowns. Alexander has a second-round pedigree (2016) with minimal experience starting with the Vikings owning two top choices to start in his career in Minnesota.
In his career, Rhodes tends to allow short yards per catch, but he will give up some TDs and the occasional big play. His value in coverage is sliding, which is why he needed to find a new home. A drop down in role should improve his success in defending the pass.
They didn't resign DE Everson Griffin and DT Linval Joseph.
Griffin has 57 sacks over his previous 88 games while averaging about 45 tackles per year. In 2019, he had eight sacks with regression in run support.
Joseph is a ten-year veteran with multiple seasons on his resume as an elite run defender. He'll chip in with some sacks while trending slightly backward in the pass rush.
The minor losses on the defensive side of the ball were CB Jayron Kearse, S Andrew Sendejo, CB Marcus Sherels, LB Kentrell Brothers, and DE Stephen Weatherly.
Minnesota added DT Michael Pierce and DE Anthony Zettel. Pierce plays well in run support while also adding help in the pass rush. Zettel projects as only a low-level backup.
The offensive line lost G Josh Kline. Over his seven seasons in the NFL with three different franchises. He graded as a league-average player with more of his upside coming in pass blocking.
They parted ways with WR Laquon Treadwell while replacing him with WR Tajae Sharpe.
The retooling of the Vikings' franchise came via 15 picks in this year's draft.
In the first round, they drafted WR Justin Jefferson and CB Jeff Gladney.
At this NFL combine, Jefferson ran a 4.43 forty yard dash, but he didn't participate in many of the other drills testing strength and quickness.
His game showed a significant edge when getting a defender in trail positions, where Jefferson showed the ability to make late adjustments to secure tightly contested ball. At the goal line, he had value in 2019 on the outside on fades plus the feel to work the middle of the deep zone on crossing patterns.
Gladney solves one of the Vikings' cornerback problems. His playmaking skills grade well while expecting to excel in coverage. He comes to the NFL with an excellent combination of speed (4.48 forty) and strength (17 reps in the bench press at the NFL combine), but Gladney may struggle physical wide receivers with size early in his career. His vision gives an edge with a chance to help in run support.
The Vikings added T Ezra Cleveland in the second round. His foundation skill set projects him to be an asset in run blocking where his fire off the line of scrimmage and strength creates space. Cleveland challenge comes when asked to handle power in the pass rush, which will require more development of his lower body. His pass protection technique needs some refining, and Cleveland needs to become more aggressive in his battles in the trenches.
Over the next five picks from the third round through the fifth round, Minnesota focused on the defense – CB Cameron Dantzler, LB D.J. Wonnum, DE James Lynch, LB Troy Dye, and CB Harrison Hand.
Dantzler has the look of a press corner while lacking elite speed (4.64 forth) and bulk (6'2" and 190 lbs.). His game shines in press coverage while gaining coverage value over the short field. His style could be at risk in two areas in the pros while facing more talented quarterback and receivers. The first comes in the deep passing game vs. speeding receivers. His plan to play physical at the line of scrimmage will take a dropdown in value against the top wide receivers that off size and strength.
Wonnum fits the bill as a pass-rushing talent with a combination of explosiveness and strength. He needs to add more depth to his pass rush moves and more finishing power to defeat the bigger bodies on the offensive line. Wonnum doesn't have elite speed, which limits his range in run support.
Lynch has a tweener feel while coming off a college career with high production in the pass rush. He'll get off the line quickly with the power to finish, but his lack of size (6'4" and 290 lbs.) takes a hit if asked to play inside at the next level. Lynch projects well as an all-around player while projecting as a rotational option early in his career in the NFL.
Dye brings quickness, vision, and understanding while being a bit underweight (6'3" and 230 lbs.). He'll attack the quarterback in the blitz with a feel for space defending the run. Dye does lose value in traffic while needing to work on his motor when tasked with better blockers.
Hand almost needs to work as a press corner where his game has a chance in trail coverage. His technique isn't ideal in mirroring routes while falling short in change-of-direction quickness. Hand does play with vision and a feel for a quarterback intent. His tackling skills need improvement.
The only player invested in at wide receiver came via K.J. Osborn in the fifth round. His speed (4.48 forty) and strength (18 reps in the bench press at the NFL combine) grade well. He projects much better against zone coverage while owning value as an open-field runner. Osborn lacks explosiveness off the line of scrimmage, which hurts him vs. press coverage. His route running looks limited while needing more development.
Minnesota took a swing at a pair of guards (Blake Brandel and Kyle Hinton) over their final six selections.
Brandel played tackle in college while showing upside in pass protection. His shortfall comes in his strength and lower body. He has efficient footwork and proper technique. Brandel can't win consistently in the run game without adding more power to his game.
Hinton is a second player expected to be shifted to guard at the next level. His game is built on power while lacking a plan after the snaps at times when on the attack. Hinton will need to add on some bulk, but his frame (6'2") can only handle a few more pounds. He's coming from a small school, which will require some development time.
The next three players (S Josh Metellus, DE Kenny Willekes, and S Brian Cole) came in the sixth and seventh rounds.
Metellus expects to upgrade the run defense with a sure tackling style. His speed (4.55 forty) and strength (20 reps in the bench press at NFL combine) plays well, but his change of direction quickness and vision limits his upside in coverage.
Willekes packs plenty of punch with his strength and a high motor. His quickness and speed don't help his cause as a pass rusher. An overachiever who plays with plenty of fight and intelligence while owning the hands to help his early wins.
Cole isn't NFL ready in coverage while falling short in his feel and anticipation for the run game. His speed (4.52 forty) and strength grade well while needing time to develop. Cole should offer value on special teams early in his career.
The swing as the backup quarterback came with the addition of Nate Stanley. His best asset is his NFL arm with also owning the prototypical build (6'4" and 235 Lbs.). Stanley has plenty of work to do in reading defenses and adding more touch to his passes to help make more plays in the short passing game. He'll struggle when facing pressure from the outside.
The Vikings jumped to 6th in the NFL in rushing yards (2,133) while averaging 29.8 rushes per game. Ball carriers gained only 4.5 yards per rush with 19 TDs and 15 runs over 20 yards.
Minnesota fell to the 24th most passing yards (3,729) with 26 TDs and eight Ints. Their offensive line allowed 28 sacks and 68 QB hits.
LT Riley Reiff
Reiff signed a massive five-year contract ($58.75 million) in March of 2017. Detroit selected him in the first round in 2012. Over three seasons for the Vikings, his play as run blocker fell short of his success early in his career while still grading as a league-average player. Reiff tends to be an edge in pass protection, but he does allow a few sacks each year.
LG Pat Elflein
Elflein is a power player with value in both run and pass blocking. His foot speed does limit his blocking window, but he works hard with a high motor. Elflein showed improvement in run blocking last year, but he still allowed too much pressure on the quarterback. His job looks to be at risk in 2020.
C Garrett Bradbury
A first-round choice last year, Bradbury underperformed in pass protection with his failure in Week 16 against the Packers. He finished as a below-par run blocker. Bradbury comes to the NFL with plenty of strength and impressive athletic ability for his position. He should offer an edge in both run and pass blocking. His next step is adding patience to his skill set.
RG Dru Samai
Samai only saw action in Week 17 in his rookie season after getting drafted in the fourth round. He is a second player added who projects to be an edge in strength. Samai will add value to the run game, especially on the move helping big plays at the running back position. His technique needs work in pass protection while needing to add discipline to his movements.
O'Neill showed growth in all areas in his second season after getting drafted in the second round. O'Neill has the base skill-set to start at left tackle once he adds more strength to handle power rushers. He's athletic with more speed (4.82) than quickness. O'Neill loses his foundation technique at times with questions about his base. His hands need improvement as well. He works the best in a quick-hitting run game.
Offensive Line Outlook
The Vikings have three players on their offensive line that project to be well above the league average. There are in transition at both guard positions while having the core of options that should add value in run blocking. Minnesota has a chance to be a top ten offensive line in 2020 while expecting to rely on the run again.
QB Kirk Cousins, MIN - Quality Backup
Dalvin Cook stole the wheels off of Cousins' passing bus in 2019. After ranking 10th in QB scoring (21.46 FPPG) in 2018 and averaging 37.9 passes per game, his passing opportunity fell by almost 22 percent last year (29.6). Most of his regression came over the first four games (98/1, 230/1, 174/1, and 233/0).
Over his next eight games, Cousins regained his previous form (2,297 passing yards and 20 touchdowns) highlighted by his run from Week 5 to Week 7 (306/2, 333/4, and 338/4). His only other game of value came in Week 11 (319/3).
Cousins struggled to make plays over the final five games (242/1, 207/1, 122/1, 242/1, and 172/1), including the playoffs.
He played most of the year without his top WR (Adam Thielen), and this year Stefon Diggs is no longer on the roster. More of a matchup play in 2020 while needing incoming rookie WR Justin Jefferson to fill the void created by the loss of Diggs.
His ADP sits at 143 as the 22nd quarterback drafted in late June. I have him projected 3,975 combined yards with 28 TDs and ten Ints. Over his previous four full seasons, Cousins passes for over 4,000 yards each year while averaging combined TDs.
QB Nate Stanley, --- - Dynasty Only
Over the last three seasons at Iowa, Stanley passed for 8,235 yards with 68 TDs and 23 Ints while owning some concern with his accuracy (58.3 percent in his college career). In 2019, his touchdown total (16) slipped well below his previous two years (26 and 26) while only delivering one game with over 300 yards.
His game projects better for a team with receiving talent while needing time to develop. He started many of his plays out of the shotgun, which helped extend his passing window. At set up when getting ready to throw paired with his size, Stanley looked like a Ben Roethlisberger while lacking the career resume at college and Roethlisberger's intangibles.
RB Dalvin Cook, MIN - Stud (low risk)
Cook helped many fantasy teams to the playoffs after an electric start over the first ten weeks (1,315 combined yards with ten TDs and 40 catches). His season ended with two missed games due to a right shoulder injury.
Over the first ten games, Cooks gained over 100 combined yards in eight games. He scored over 24.0 fantasy points in PPR leagues in seven of those outings with his best value coming in Week 10 (183 combined yards with one TD and seven catches.
From Week 11 to Week 15 over four games, he gained only 239 combined yards with three TDs and 13 catches) while rushing for 3.1 yards per rush.
The Vikings had him on the field for about 70 percent of their plays over the first 11 weeks. Cook hasn't played a full season in his three years in the league (19 missed games).
He averaged 21.8 touches per game over his 16 games (including the playoffs) while finishing sixth in RB PPR scoring (second in fantasy points per game – 21.03).
Top tier back, but I don't view him as slam dunk based on his career injury risk and his expected holdout this summer.
With a full 16 games of action, I have Cooks projected for 1,806 combined yards with 14 TDs and 62 catches. Fantasy owners have him priced as the fourth-best choice at running back in the early draft season with an ADP of five.
RB Alexander Mattison, MIN - Fantasy Handcuff
In his rookie season, Mattison never saw the field for more than 27 plays in any game. His opportunity was trending upward in Week 13 (73 combined yards and four catches) and Week 14 (64 combined yards and two catches).
An ankle injury cost him the final three contests and a starting window after RB Dalvin Cook went down with a shoulder issue.
Mattison had success in both his yards per rush (4.6) and yards per catch (8.2) while owning pass-catching upside on his college resume (55/457/1 on 70 targets in 2017 and 2018).
A must handcuff for Dalvin Cook with the tools to deliver RB1 stats if given the full time starting job. I expect close to 150 touches for 725-plus yards with five TDs and a chance at 25 catches.
WR Justin Jefferson, MIN - Sleeper (undervalued)
The rise of Joe Burrow was a big win for Jefferson in 2019. Over his 15 games in a national championship season, he caught 111 passes for 1,540 yards and 18 TDs highlighted by his dominating performance in his 14th game against Oklahoma (14/227/4). The previous year he led LSU as well in wide receiver production (54/875/6), but the team's offense was mediocre.
Jefferson had growth last season after a switch to the slot. His quickness in that role can't match some of the best WRs in the NFL while needing some work on his route running. If asked to play outside, he'll take a hit in value when working in the deep areas of the field. Jefferson plays with vision while showcasing sneaky speed in the open field.
My starting point for Jefferson in my initial projections came to 59 catches for 774 yards and five TDs. Fantasy owners rank him as the 50th wide receiver drafted in the latter part of June with an ADP of 140. If he delivers on my expected value (166.4 fantasy points in PPR leagues), Jefferson would be a borderline backend WR3 in 2020. I expect his draft value to rise over the summer.
WR Adam Thielen, MIN - Solid/Safe Pick
Thielen was on the upward path after success in 2017 (91/1276/4) and 2018 (113/1373/9). Last year he played well in Week 5 (7/130/2) while scoring six TDs over his first seven games.
After six weeks (26/366/5), Thielen was on pace for 69 catches for 976 yards and 13 TDs.
His season went awry after suffering a hamstring injury in Week 7. He finished with only 30 catches for 418 yards and six TDs on 48 targets over ten games while only posting one other strong outing in the postseason (7/129).
Thielen is a great route runner with the hands to catch tightly contested balls. Look for a push back over 90 catches for about 1,100 yards and eight TDs. His early ADP is 46 as the 16th WR drafted in PPR leagues.