Preseason - 2021 Minnesota Vikings Outlook
Minnesota Vikings Outlook
Mike Zimmer will run the Vikings franchise for the seventh year. He has a career 64-47-1 record with three playoff appearances (2-3). Over the previous six seasons, Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals. He has 21 years of experience coaching while helping the Cowboys win the Super Bowl in 1995. Minnesota has 10 victories or more in three of his last six seasons.
Minnesota promoted Klint Kubiak from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. He takes over for his father (Gary Kubiak), who retired in the offseason. The younger Kubiak starts the year at age 34 with seven years of experience with the Vikings.
In 2020, the Vikings dipped to 11th in points scored (430) despite moving to fourth in the league in offensive yards.
Minnesota will use Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer to run their defense again in 2021. 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.
Some significant changes on defense led to a sharp decline in the rankings in points (475 – 29th) and yards allowed (27th – 14th in 2019). They allowed 172 points more than the previous season.
All the offseason free-agent moves came on the defensive side of the ball for the Vikings. They revamped their secondary by signing CB Patrick Peterson, S Xavier Woods, CB Mackensie Alexander, and CB Bashaud Breeland.
Peterson has been a top player at his position since being drafted in the first round in 2011. His play slipped in 2020, leading to many big plays and struggles with touchdowns allowed.
Woods picked up 149 combined tackles over the past two seasons, but his run defense faded in 2020 with more mistakes in touchdowns allowed.
Alexander jumped to the Bengals' defense after spending his first four years with Minnesota. He likes to keep receivers in front of him while allowing short yards per catch out of the slot with minimal damage in touchdowns allowed. The Vikings will use him off the bench in 2021.
Breeland helped the Chiefs win the Super Bowl in 2019 with his risk/reward play in coverage. Last year, he allowed a higher catch rate, leading to shorter yards per catch and more damage in touchdowns allowed.
Minnesota lost S Anthony Harris and LB Eric Wilson to the Eagles.
Harris worked his way from a low-level rotational player in 2015 to a full-time starter in 2019 and 2020. He is a sure tackler who plays well in run support. Over the past three seasons, quarterbacks rarely looked his way for completions.
Wilson made 16 starts in 2020, but his results were unimpressive. At best, he helps in coverage while missing too many tackles to be an asset against the run.
The addition was DT Dalvin Tomlinson. He played well in his four years in the NFL against the run while delivering 49 tackles and 3.5 sacks in each of the past two seasons.
The Vikings addressed their offensive line in the first round with the selection of T Christian Darrisaw. His game projects to have a high ceiling, but he has to decide if he wants to be an elite player. His movements and quickness create a winning edge with the vision to cover a significant portion of the field. The only thing holding him back is Darrisaw's motivation. Minnesota expects him to have a long career for them at left tackle.
In the third round, the Vikings added QB Kellen Mond, LB Chazz Surratt, G Wyatt Davis, and DE Patrick Jones.
Mond has the foundation to run the ball and throw well on the move. His challenge comes from his poor accuracy to the sidelines and the deep passing game. The Vikings hope he can develop into a productive game manager.
Surratt has limited experience playing linebacker, but he brings a warrior feel to the game. His one challenge is overcoming his lack of size (6'2" and 230 Lbs.) while also needing to get stronger. Surratt works hard to get better, pointing high upside once he improves his vision and decision-making.
Davis wants to beat his man to the punch after the snap, but his range is limited. He'll handle power rushes in pass protection while getting caught up with his reads and movements when facing moving targets in traffic.
Jones spent plenty of time in the backfield in college, creating losses and sacks. His motor doesn't always fire while struggling at times to find his way in run support. He tackles well with the presence to win on the edge. Jones needs to add more power to earn more playing time.
Minnesota had three more selections in the fourth round – RB Kene Nwangwu, CB Camryn Byrum, and DE Janarius Robinson.
Nwangwu gets a knock for lack of experience with the ball in his hands, but any chance for him to grow as a runner comes from game action. He needs to feel holes open while knowing when to hit the gas to win in tight quarters. His speed plays well while being a hard worker.
Byrum plays the game of football at a high level with the tools to excel at many levels. Unfortunately, his speed card can't match the top wide receivers in the game. In the red zone, his press coverage has a better window to slow down receivers. Byrum is a leader with a willingness in run support.
Robinson is another player drafted by the Vikings that may need a trip to Oz. He looks the part of an upside pass rusher with the tools that cause problems for blocking schemes. His vision and tackling rank below par with questions about his desire on some plays. Robinson also needs to improve his hands.
The Vikings invested in WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette, TE Zach Davidson, and DT Jaylen Twyman with the final picks in the fifth and sixth rounds.
Smith-Marsette needs to add bulk and strength if he has any chance of earning wide receiver snaps at the next level. He brings open field running and long speed that plays well in the return game. Smith-Marsette isn't at an NFL level in his route running with questions with his hands and quickness.
Davidson comes to the NFL with an underdeveloped body while needing to get stronger. His route running, hands, and quickness project well, but the Vikings won't get much out of him for a couple of seasons.
Twyman brings a below-par base, but he does play with strength. His hands create early wins in the pass rush. Twyman puts up a standing fight in the run game that tends to get washed out by the big bodies.
The Vikings inched up to 5th in the NFL in rushing yards (2,283) while averaging 29.3 rushes per game. Ball carriers gained only 4.9 yards per rush with 20 touchdowns and 10 runs over 20 yards.
Minnesota jumped to the 12th most passing yards (4,265) with 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Their offensive line allowed 39 sacks.
LT Christian Darrisaw
The success of the Vikings' offense hinges on Darrisaw hitting the ground running. He jumps into a top-rushing offense while owing the talent to reach a high ceiling.
LG Dakota Dozier
In his first season with starting snaps, Dozier gave up a ton of pressure with losing value in run support. Over his first five years in the NFL, he had minimal playing time with no help in any area. Minnesota needs to improve on this position before the start of the season.
C Garrett Bradbury
Over his first two seasons after getting drafted in the first round, Bradbury underperformed in pass protection each year. His run blocking pushed closer to the league average. Bradbury came to the NFL with plenty of strength and impressive athletic ability for his position. He should develop into a better all-around player when gaining more experience. His next step is adding patience to his skill set.
RG Ezra Cleveland
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's challenge comes when asked to handle power in the pass rush, which will require more development of his lower body. His technique in pass protection needs some refining, and Cleveland needs to become more aggressive in his battles in the trenches.
Over nine starts in his rookie season, Cleveland handled himself well in the run game while allowing too much pressure. He missed a couple of starts with an ankle issue.
RT Brian O'Neill
O'Neill showed growth in all areas over the past two seasons after getting drafted in the second round in 2019. 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, highlighted by his growth as a run blocker last year.
Minnesota invested in their offensive line over the past few drafts. Four of their expected starters have a chance to rank above the league average, but each option is on a different path in their development. A glaring hole at the left guard sets the tone for the weakness in the pass protection.
The Vikings ran the ball 47.6 percent of the time, thanks to the eighth highest number of running attempts (468). Their passing game pushed higher thanks to the development of Justin Jefferson.
QB Kirk Cousins, MIN - Sleeper (undervalued)
Heading into last year, Cousins could have been found in the free-agent pool in almost all 12-team leagues. His passing opportunity has had a wide range (444, 516, and 606) over the past three seasons. He averaged 266 combined yards and two touchdowns in his 47 starts. His completion rate (69.0) over this span ranked highly while pushing higher in his yards per attempt (8.3) in 2020.
His season started with struggles over his first seven games (1,635 passing yards with 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions). Over his final nine starts, Cousins passed for 2,630 yards with 23 touchdowns and three interceptions. He gained over 300 yards in five starts while scoring three touchdowns or more in eight contests. His highlight game came in Week 17 (405/3).
Fantasy Outlook: Minnesota has two top pass-catching wide receivers plus an explosive player out of the backfield. The Vikings will run the ball well in the red zone, and better defensive play could lead to fewer passing attempts. In three seasons with the Vikings, Cousins has averaged 4,055 passing yards and 31.3 touchdowns annually. Minnesota improved their offensive line and Cousins should once again contend for QB1 numbers, making him a solid sleeper targer for fantasy managers who bypass an early-round quarterback and look for safe production late.
QB Kellen Mond, CLE - Dynasty Only
Over four seasons at Texas A&M, Mond passes for 9,661 yards with 71 touchdowns and 27 interceptions while offering value on the ground (438/1,609/22). His best play came in 2018 (3,581 combined yards with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions).
Other Options: Nate Stanley, Jake Browning
RB Dalvin Cook, MIN - Stud (low risk)
The Vikings' running backs combined for 2,920 yards with 19 touchdowns and 98 catches in 2019 while finishing with close to the same stats in 2020 (2,772 combined yards with 24 touchdowns and 75 catches). In both seasons, their backs had over 500 touches.
Cook finished second in running back scoring (341.00) in PPR leagues in 2020 despite missing two games for the season straight year. He gained over 100 yards in eight matchups while delivering two impact games (48.60 and 39.20 fantasy points). Minnesota gave Cook 25.4 touches per game.
He missed Week 6 with a groin injury. Cook sat out Week 17 for a personal reason.
Over four seasons with the Vikings, he gained 4.8 yards per rush with rising value in the passing game over the past three years (40/305/2, 53/519, and 44/361/1).
Fantasy Outlook: Cook will be the second running back drafted in 2021. His three-down ability sets a high floor. The Vikings will lean on him in many games. With an entire season of playing time, Cook would have a floor of 1,800 combined yards with 16 touchdowns and 60 catches. He missed nine games over the past three seasons, which would force me to make sure to draft his handcuff.
UPDATE: Cook has suffered another shoulder injury and could be sidelined until the fantasy playoffs.
RB Alexander Mattison, MIN - Fantasy Handcuff
In Week 5, Mattison came off the bench to gain 136 combined yards with three catches on 23 touches. He earned the start the next game with Dalvin Cook battling a groin issue. Unfortunately, Mattison ended up being a bust (30 yards with one catch) in all fantasy formats in Week 6.
He finished the year with almost identical stats (559 combined yards with three touchdowns and 13 catches) as his rookie season (544 combined yards with one touchdown and 10 catches). Mattison missed almost all of Week 13 to Week 16 due to an appendix injury and a concussion.
The Vikings gave him the start in Week 17, and he responded with 145 combined yards with two touchdowns and three catches.
Fantasy Outlook: Mattison has an ADP of 137 in the early draft season, which is more favorable than 2020. If I draft Cook, I'm targeting Mattison in drafts. The wise guys in the high-stakes market will fight for him on draft day. As a backup, he projects to gain 700 yards with short scores and minimal damage in catches.
UPDATE: With Dalvin Cook injured, Alexander Mattison will get the chance to be a fantasy RB1 down the stretch as the Vikings undisputed featured back.
Other Options: Ameer Abdullah, Kene Nwangwu, A.J. Rose
WR Justin Jefferson, MIN - Stud (low risk)
The wide receiver ride in Minnesota has been wild over the past three seasons. In 2018, with Stefon Diggs (102/1,021/9) and Adam Thielen (113/1,373/9) playing well, they finished with 270 catches for 2,969 yards and 24 touchdowns on 388 targets. Last year, the Vikings lost Stefon Diggs (127/1,535/8) to the Bills, but Justin Jefferson (88/1,400/7) helped soften the blow. Their wideout finished with a rebound in value (196/2,715/23 on 284 targets) while gaining 13.9 yards per catch.
The Vikings eased Jefferson into action over the first two games (2/26 and 3/44), but there was no stopping his rise after an explosive showing in Week 3 (7/175/1). Over his final 14 starts, he gained over 100 yards in seven matchups while being a much better player at home (46/786/7 – 17.1 yards per catch). Jefferson failed to score on the road while remaining productive (40/588 on 57 targets). His catch rate (70.4) came in an elite area.
At this NFL combine in 2020, Jefferson ran a 4.43 40-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 balls. He had value in 2019 on the outside on fades plus the feel to work the middle of the deep zone on crossing patterns at the goal line.
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 touchdowns, 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 at best.
Fantasy Outlook: After finishing sixth in wide receiver scoring (274.20) in PRR leagues, Jefferson ranks eighth in the 12-team high-stakes market with an ADP of 24. His success commands more looks, and Kirk Cousins and the Vikings will give him plenty of targets in 2021. He posted two impact games (30.50 and 39.60 fantasy points) while settling in as a 19.44 fantasy receiver over his final eight starts. His next step should push Jefferson over 110 catches for 1,650 yards and double-digit scores.
WR Adam Thielen, MIN - Quality Backup
After a breakout season (113/1,373/9) in 2018, Thielen battled injuries the following year, leading to only 30 catches for 418 yards and six touchdowns over 10 games.
He started last year with three impact games (6/110/2, 8/114/1, and 9/80/2) over the first five weeks. Thielen continued to score over his final 10 contests (eight touchdowns), but the Vikings only looked his way 6.4 times per game. He caught 45 passes for 561 yards over this span, with most of his production coming in four matchups (4/43/2, 8/123/2, 8/75/1, and 8/97/1).
Thielen scored fewer than 10.00 fantasy points in six matchups (three over the final four weeks). He had five targets or fewer in seven games. His one missed start came from a Covid issue.
Despite an up and down season, he finished 10th in wide receiver scoring (254.00) in PPR leagues.
Fantasy Outlook: Thielen runs good routes, and he caught 68.3 percent of his targets over the past four seasons. The rise of Justin Jefferson should lead to coverage shifting away from Thielen on more plays. His ADP (56) puts him fifth round in 12-team leagues as a backend WR2. Minnesota doesn't have A high-volume pass-catching tight end, and no one has emerged to take a productive lead at WR3. His floor with 17 games played should be 90 catches for 1,100 yards with eight scores.