Next up in our series is the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings have had a mediocre record since the Kirk Cousins era began (33-29-1 W/L/T record in games Cousins played), but they have a lot of fantasy relevance. Justin Jefferson has taken the NFL by storm, Dalvin Cook is one of the only true workhorse backs left, and Cousins is a lot better in fantasy than people give him credit for. The Vikings have a new HC this year Kevin O’Connell (former OC for the Rams), who ran an elite offense in LA. The skies are the limit for this team in 2022. We’ll give a positional breakdown of what to expect fantasy-wise this season.
Cousins has been a bit of an enigma in both real life and fantasy football. He was in that same tier as Derek Carr, where it was hard to gauge if these two are good quarterbacks for fantasy or not. Cousins might not be a top-ten quarterback, but he is better than people give him credit.
PPG rank among all quarterbacks (min. five games played) since starting full time:
- 2015 (WAS): QB12
- 2016 (WAS): QB6
- 2017 (WAS): QB8
- 2018 (MIN): QB16
- 2019 (MIN): QB18
- 2020 (MIN): QB12
- 2021 (MIN): QB12
Besides a couple of down years during his first two seasons in Minnesota, Cousins has always been a consistent high-end QB2 to mid-level QB1. Cousins has thrown 30+ touchdowns in three of the four seasons. The Vikings have averaged a 103.8 passer rating during that period. This year, the offense should be expected to let Captain Kirk cook under the new HC. The Rams ranked top-12 in passing attempts in both 2020 and 2021 and had a whopping 41 passing touchdowns last year (second highest). The projection is that the Vikings will have a similar offensive scheme.
Cook is one of the last true workhorse backs in the league. He was top three in rush attempts per game in the previous two seasons and has rushed for 1,100 yards or more every year for the past three years. Cook has had a bit of an injury history – he has never played a full 16 games in his five-year career. Over the past four years since becoming a starter, he has missed 13 games.
Cook is heading into next season, having just turned 27 years old – when typically running backs start to decline performance-wise. Although this is typically a turning point for running backs, there are high hopes for Cook going into this year with the new HC. Some training camp reports indicate Cook will be used more in the receiving game, which could help his PPR value. Over the past three seasons, he was a Top-12 running back in PPR/G and Top-3 in two of them. Cook should have a couple more RB1 seasons left and be ranked around the RB10 mark in dynasty.
Mattison has been, and maybe is, the BEST handcuff in fantasy football. He averaged 21.7 PPR/G in the four games Cook missed in 2021. For reference, that would be good for the overall RB3, averaging 0.2 points more than Austin Ekeler. The only issue is that Mattison has very little standalone value. In the 13 games that Cook played last year, Mattison was on the field for 40% of the snaps ONE TIME and was below 40% in all the rest. He offers little to no value of his own, which is why he falls so late in drafts.
Given Cook’s injury history, Mattison should still be drafted in all leagues and should be a high priority, especially for the Cook owner. Mattison is only 23 years old and is in the last year of his contract. As of right now, the Vikings have not offered an extension. If Mattison were to depart from Minnesota, he could get a lead running back position somewhere. At the least, be part of a running back duo and get on the field a lot more.
Jefferson has taken the NFL by storm. He has had the most receiving yards in a player’s first two seasons of ALL-TIME (3,016 yards). Jefferson boasted a 29.9% target share when on the field (third highest in the NFL) and finished the year with 167 targets. The offense is built around Jefferson, and the skies are the limit with Kevin O’Connell as HC. O’Connell has stated throughout training camp that they plan on using Jefferson in a Cooper Kupp-type role. The thought of Jefferson being used like Kupp, who just had the best fantasy season EVER by a wide receiver, is mouth-watering.
Jefferson is a top-tier WR1 in both redraft and dynasty. Jefferson has a good chance of being the overall WR1 this year. His main competition is Cooper Kupp, but there are some reasons Kupp may not be as effective this year. Kupp will have a new OC, Allen Robinson, coming in (who is more of a target hog than Robert Woods was), and there are reports of Stafford having an abnormal elbow injury. Jefferson is worthy of a top-three pick in redraft leagues this year. As for dynasty, Jefferson is the WR1 right now. In SuperFlex startups, he should likely be picked in the first half of the first round. He could be the first overall pick in 1QB leagues.
Thielen has been one of the most consistent wide receivers in the red zone. He has had 24 touchdowns in his last 28 games. Cousins views Thielen as a significant threat in the red zone, which should not change into 2022. Thielen did have a season-ending ankle injury last year, but training camp reports have come out that Thielen is looking back to normal. With the projected increased passing volume in 2022, Thielen could be a massive value at his current WR28 ADP (FantasyPros PPR ADP) and look at another double-digit touchdown season. As for Dynasty, Thielen will be turning 32 this year. He could be a buy for a contending team but is a definite sell for a rebuild. Thielen could have a similar value as a late second-round pick right now.
Osborn is someone that could have an expanded role in 2022 with the offensive changes that will be underway. He finished 2021 with 50 receptions, 655 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns. He will likely be used more as a deep threat, with Jefferson and Thielen being the A and B for the team’s passing game. Think of Van Jefferson last year on the Rams. Van Jefferson also had 50 receptions but 802 receiving yards – nearly three more yards per reception. Osborn could be a tremendous late-round flier in dynasty startups. He is only 25 years old and could establish himself as the second option if Thielen starts to decline.
Irv Smith Jr.
Smith could be a potential sleeper for both redraft and dynasty. He is an athletic tight end that was held back a bit due to injuries. In 2021, he finished with 30 receptions, 365 receiving yards, and five touchdowns. He recently had thumb surgery but should be good for Week 1. The lack of training/pre-season warm-up may hold him back initially, but with the change in the offensive scheme in 2022, he could be a great sleeper target at the tight end position. Irv Smith Jr. could be a great buy low before the season begins; frustrated owners may want to trade him away due to the injury history.
The Vikings have been a mediocre team for quite a while but could be in for a massive 2022 given the change in coaching and offensive schemes. This team will have a lot of fantasy relevance this year, and many of these players will be solid dynasty assets for years to come.
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