Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Vikings Fantasy Preview

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Vikings Offensive Profile Under Mike Zimmer

2014-2016 Pass Attempts Rank: 22nd, 32nd, 12th
2014-2016 Rush Attempts Rank: 18th, 4th, 25th
2014-2016 Play Volume Rank: 28th, 28th, 23rd
2014-2016 Yards Per Play Rank: 26th, 25th, 28th
Unaccounted for Targets from 2016 (Rank): 176 (7th)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2016 (Rank): 196 (5th)

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Sam Bradford
RB: Dalvin Cook
WR: Stefon Diggs
WR: Adam Thielen
WR: Laquon Treadwell
TE: Kyle Rudolph
LT: Riley Reiff
LG: Alex Boone
C: Pat Elflein
RG: Joe Berger
RT: Mike Remmers

Passing Game Outlook

A slow-paced, run-based team in Mike Zimmer’s first two seasons as coach, last year’s Vikings resorted to a high-volume, quick-pass offense following Teddy Bridgewater’s devastating pre-Week 1 knee injury and Adrian Peterson’s Week 2 meniscus tear. OC Norv Turner shockingly resigned on November 2, while Minnesota’s injury-leveled line permitted the NFL’s seventh-most QB hits (104) and finished 30th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards, torpedoing the run game. TEs-coach-turned-OC Pat Shurmur – a longtime Sam Bradford truther – put the keys to Minnesota’s offense in Bradford’s hands with largely positive results considering the adverse circumstances. While Bradford did record a league-low 6.6-yard average depth of target in a checkdown-driven passing game out of necessity, he also capitalized with a league-record 71.6% completion rate and career bests in QB rating (99.3), QBR (59.0), TD-to-INT ratio (20:5), and yards per attempt (7.02). Although vertical shots weren’t a big part of the revised approach, Bradford also led all NFL quarterbacks in Pro Football Focus’ deep-ball accuracy rate (57.4%) in what amounted to his career-best year. The Vikings’ starter from Weeks 2-17, Bradford was the fantasy QB20 during that stretch and now enters year two with multiple O-Line upgrades, a strong young pass-catcher cast, and a pass-defense schedule Rotoworld SOS analyst Warren Sharp rated as the softest in football. In two-quarterback and best-ball leagues, Bradford is one of my favorite value targets at his QB24 ADP.

Stefon Diggs erupted out of the 2016 gates for a 16/285/17.8/1 receiving line in Weeks 1-2, only to top 60 yards just three times the rest of the way while battling groin, knee, hip, and hamstring injuries. Diggs admitted after the season that he wasn’t in good enough shape, admirable from a 23-year-old wideout who paced for 103.4 catches while missing three games. After Turner’s in-season resignation, Shurmur built the Vikings’ quick-pass offense around Diggs’ technically-sound and explosive route-running chops. Diggs logged 63% of his snaps in the slot, where his 78.2% catch rate ranked No. 8 among 54 qualifiers at Pro Football Focus. Per PFF’s Scott Barrett, the Vikings have the second-softest schedule for slot receivers this year. Through two NFL seasons, Diggs has finished 33rd/85 and 26th/96 in PFF’s predictive yards-per-route-run metric, an overwhelmingly promising sign for one of this year’s premier value picks. If Diggs stays healthy, he’ll be a cinch to smash his WR26 (MFL10s) and WR31 (FF Calc) ADPs.

In an unexpected pass-first offense that got zero from first-rounder Laquon Treadwell, annual preseason stud Adam Thielen finally got a shot to demonstrate his talent as an offensive regular. A near-full-time player from Weeks 5-17, Thielen was the PPR WR18 during that span and showed an ability to win from multiple alignments with 40% of his snaps at left-outside receiver, 29% in the slot, and 30% on the right outside. Even for as good as Diggs was, Thielen beat him in PFF’s WR rating (121.9, 106.2), yards per route run (1.94, 1.91), and yards per target (10.5, 8.1). Undrafted out of Minnesota State-Mankato in 2013, Thielen blazed 4.49 with a lightning-quick 6.77 three-cone time at his pre-draft Pro Day at 6-foot-1, 192. This year’s Vikings are missing the NFL’s seventh-most targets (176) from last year’s roster, giving Thielen a shot at increased usage. They also signed Thielen to a three-year, $17 million extension in the spring. While it’s fair to question whether he’ll maintain re-draft-caliber consistency with Diggs healthy, Thielen is a no-brainer bench-depth pick at his WR47 (FF Calc) and WR50 (MFL10s) ADPs.

With Cordarrelle Patterson’s 70 targets gone to Oakland, Vikings No. 3 wideout snaps are wide open to competition between Laquon Treadwell, Michael Floyd, and Jarius Wright. Especially after Floyd got hit with a four-game suspension for substance abuse, Treadwell is the odds-on favorite to man X receiver across from Thielen’s Z. Treadwell hogged first-team reps at OTAs/minicamp and offers requisite size (6’2/221) Minnesota lacks at the other receiver spots. While his one-catch rookie year was a colossal disappointment for a player drafted 23rd overall, Treadwell has legitimate excuses stemming from college injuries, including a fractured leg and dislocated ankle in November of 2014. Situational slot man Wright was essentially weeded out of last year’s offense with a career-low 14 targets in eight appearances. Although not quite on the fantasy-draft radar yet, Treadwell is the name to watch as an ideal stylistic complement to Thielen and Diggs with a big body, long arms, and first-round draft capital the Vikings have incentive to make work.

Plagued by injuries the first four years of his career, Kyle Rudolph has now strung together consecutive 16-game seasons and broke out in a major way in 2016, leading all NFL tight ends in targets (132) and red-zone targets (24) while ranking third at the position in both catches (83) and snaps played en route to a PPR TE2 overall finish, behind only Travis Kelce. Rudolph was particularly productive after TEs coach Pat Shurmur replaced Norv Turner as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator in early November, averaging 8.7 targets and 57.6 yards per game from that point on, improvements upon Rudolph’s 7.7-target and 46-yard average over the initial seven weeks. Still an ascending player at age 27, Rudolph is locked into a high-volume featured role with Shurmur as Minnesota’s full-time playcaller, and the 2017 Vikings have the NFL’s softest tight end schedule based on 2016 fantasy points allowed. Just the TE7 off the board in MFL10s and the TE9 on FF Calculator, Rudolph is arguably this year’s best value at the tight end position.

Running Game Outlook

With Joe Mixon still on the board, the Vikings traded up to select Dalvin Cook at the 41st overall pick in April’s draft and figure to install him as their Week 1 starter. After minicamp, non-hyperbolic coach Mike Zimmer opined that Cook has a “chance to be special.” Although Cook tested as a mere sixth-percentile SPARQ athlete at the Combine, he placed sixth among drafted running backs in Speed Score with 4.49 jets at 5-foot-10, 210 and was an elite prospect on game tape, leading the nation in PFF College’s 2016 Elusive Rating. Rotoworld draft analyst Josh Norris has compared Cook to DeAngelo Williams. According to SOS analyst Warren Sharp, this year’s Vikings draw the NFL’s fourth-easiest schedule of run defenses and seventh-softest schedule overall, enhancing the probability Cook will benefit from positive game script. Although Minnesota’s offensive line setup isn’t ideal, Cook does have experience running behind poor blocking after Yards Created RB guru Graham Barfield exposed Florida State’s front five as his study’s lowest-graded unit in 2016. Still, Cook carries risk in that Latavius Murray figures to threaten for goal-line and short-yardage work, and Jerick McKinnon remains the Vikings’ most polished receiving back. Nevertheless, I think Cook is priced fairly at his RB19 ADP in best-ball MFL10s. Fantasy Football Calculator mock participants are far lower on Cook, leaving him on the board until the RB29 draft slot.

Six weeks before drafting Cook, the Vikings signed Latavius Murray to a three-year, $15 million deal that is heavy on back-loaded, non-guaranteed salaries and amounts to a year-to-year commitment. A big, stiff, upright runner with minimal elusiveness and disappointing power for his hulking size (6’3/223), Murray managed 4.04 yards per carry behind Oakland’s elite offensive line last season, while Raiders Nos. 2 and 3 backs DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard combined for a sparkling 5.63 YPC average. Murray also underwent ankle surgery in late March, costing him all of spring practices and putting him behind Cook in the race for early-down carries. Murray’s likeliest roles are red-zone banger and pass-protection specialist after he converted 9-of-16 rushing attempts (56.3%) inside the five-yard line into touchdowns and earned PFF’s No. 13 pass-blocking-efficiency grade among 62 qualified backs in 2016. Still, Murray would likely need a Cook injury to become anything more than an RB4/5 in 2017 fantasy leagues. With Murray sidelined and Cook learning the ropes, Jerick McKinnon handled first-team reps at OTAs and minicamp. McKinnon enters his contract year as the slight favorite for passing-game targets in the Vikings’ backfield, although specific roles are unlikely to be cemented until deep in training camp.

2017 Vegas Win Total

One of my favorite “under” bets at their 9.5-game Win Total last year, the Vikings are now one of my favorite “over” teams at 8.5 wins. As mentioned above, Minnesota’s schedule softens considerably after they played one of the league’s toughest slates last season, went a relatively unlucky 2-4 in one-score games, and undershot their 8.6-8.7 Pythagorean Win Expectation with an injury-ravaged, 8-8 finish. This year’s Vikings defense should remain nasty under Mike Zimmer, the offensive line has an elevated chance to be competent, and both the passing and running games look undervalued in the public’s eyes.



Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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