Let me give you a little personal background before we get started. I have been a Minnesota Vikings fan since Warren Moon was our quarterback. I was only about nine years old at the time, but I have stayed true to the Vikes through many subsequent years of agony and ecstasy. I remember with all the glory of childhood nostalgia the Randy Moss and Chris Carter years. I wake up with fevered screams over the 15-1 season that ended so cruelly with a Gary Anderson missed field goal (his ONLY missed field goal that season) that stopped us from reaching the Super Bowl that year.
The truth is, to be a Vikings fan is to be cruelly tortured with the most significant pain of all… hope. We always have a decent-to-good team, and we always fall short of our ultimate goals. As for fantasy football, there are always some gems in the Vikings squad, and this year will be no exception. Trust me to be honest in my evaluations as you join me in breaking down the 2021 Minnesota Vikings.
(gif courtesy of tenor)
A Tortured Vikings Fan
The 2020 season was very disappointing overall. The Vikings finished 7-9, third in the division, and without a playoff berth. What went wrong, you ask?
- Several injuries to key players on the defensive side of the ball
- A very young and struggling secondary
- In other words, the defense sucked… bad
On a more positive note…
Kirk Cousins had a really good year. He finished top 10 in QB rating, completion percentage, touchdowns, TD%, and total yards. Dalvin Cook was an absolute monster yet again. He finished 2nd in total yards and TDs, while also finishing as the overall RB2 in PPR leagues.
Adam Thielen had another fantastic season and ended up with 74 receptions on 108 targets and 14 TDs (3rd in the NFL). He was good enough to finish as the WR10 in PPR formats.
The most fantastic offensive superstar was Justin Jefferson, the rookie WR out of LSU. The Vikings selected Jefferson with the first-round pick they received from Buffalo in the Stefon Diggs trade. Jefferson broke the all-time rookie receiving record by netting a staggering 1,400 receiving yards! Jefferson finished as the WR7 in PPR leagues as a rookie, a jaw-dropping achievement for any first-year player.
Now let’s look ahead to 2021 and see what to expect from the Purple and Gold. I will break down each position and highlight any fantasy-relevant players I feel should be on your radar or have questions about.
Once again, it is the Cousins’ Show going into 2021. The Vikings have re-worked his contract, and he is most likely going to be around this year and next. Cousins is somewhat of an enigma. He has always been relatively productive, almost to an elite level depending on the season. Despite that, most people seem to struggle to like him. He is virtually Derek Carr-esque in that regard.
Cousins finished the 2020 campaign as the QB11 in a standard 4-pt passing TD league. In 2019, Cousins finished as the QB19 in the same type of league. I think this perfectly summarises his range of outcomes. In my QB projections for the 2021 season, I have him at QB18. However, he is only about 25 points away from a top 12 finish.
Mike Zimmer is unapologetic about his desire for a run-first team. With the offseason moves and draft picks they have made, I think the defense will be a bit better this year. I think that will cause the Vikings to be slightly less aggressive in the passing department. Another point to consider is that Cousins offers almost nothing in terms of rushing upside.
In Superflex leagues, I am happy to have Cousins as my QB2 as he will have his blow-up games, and at the end of the season, his stats will be OK. He is a good backup in a 1QB league, but I would not want to be counting on him as my weekly starter.
One of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason for the Vikings has been their third-round selection of Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond. There were rumors that the Vikings wanted to trade up and draft Justin Fields, but the Bears beat them to it. I believe this signifies the front office wanting to start making plans for life post-Kirk.
Mond is a very different prospect to Cousins, and he does offer the athletic, rushing upside that Cousins lacks. Whether Mond is to become the heir-apparent or just a step towards replacing the current QB1 is yet to be seen.
(image courtesy of Vikings.com)
I would be interested in adding Mond in a deeper Superflex type league, but I would not expect him to get any playing time this season, barring an injury to Cousins. A decent taxi-squad stash, but don’t invest too much and don’t have any short-term expectations.
I don’t think it will take much convincing on my part to help you understand Cook isn’t just very good… he is ELITE! The Vikings seem to think so since they reached a 5-year contract extension with Cook at the start of last season. The next two seasons are fully guaranteed, so I would not be worried about Cook getting shelved for anyone else anytime soon.
As mentioned previously, Cook was an absolute monster last year. He racked up 1,557 yards on 312 rushing attempts. He also chipped in with 44 receptions and 16 total TDs to give him the overall RB2 finish in 2020. Fun fact; Cook was tied with Ezekiel Elliott for the most attempts inside the 5-yard-line with 22 last season.
(image courtesy of The Ringer)
Minnesota wants to be a run-heavy team at their core, so you know Cook will get a workload. Cook only missed one game due to injury in 2020, encouraging for those concerned that he is “injury-prone”. Cook is the total package.
He gets the majority of the work in a run-heavy team, he contributes significantly in the passing game, and he gets the lion’s share of goal-line work. While TDs aren’t a sticky stat, and they are tricky to predict, one thing you want to target is a goal-line back because the chances of converting are infinitely higher inside the five-yard line.
Cook is currently my RB2 in dynasty, and I have him projected for another RB2 level performance in 2021 with a monster workload and an improved offensive line.
Mattison is a solid running back and helps the real-life Vikings a lot. In fantasy, unfortunately, he is just a high-end handcuff as he is never going to get the volume to make him a weekly starter as long as Cook is healthy and on the team. If I roster Cook in dynasty, I would like to have Mattison on my squad. If I don’t roster Cook, I would like to see what the Cook manager will give me for him in a trade.
Nwangwu was a fourth-round draft pick by the Vikings this year out of Iowa. He is an elite athlete with fantastic speed. If your league does give return yardage, he might be worth a stash as he is likely to play a part on special teams. Though Nwangwu was selected higher than most people thought he would be, I don’t think he will play a significant role in the offense this season. He is most likely a depth piece/special teamer to help replace the departing Mike Boone.
Theilen is the elder statesman of the Vikings WR corps and will be an incredible value to any contenders in dynasty leagues this year. Thielen will be 31 before the season starts, so he is dead and buried to most dynasty managers.
(image courtesy of the Dallas Morning News)
The truth is, he has only missed six games due to injury since 2014. They all just happened to come in 2019. Once someone burns you, mainly because of injury, it is easy to write them off. You have to consider circumstances, though, and his track record speaks for itself. He is a reliable and efficient receiver, pretty much a lock for 100-plus targets with TD upside.
According to the DynastyGM, you could acquire Thielen for your contender 2022 first. Looking at DynastyTradeCalculator I have seen recent trades where Thielen went for the 2021 2.01 rookie pick and traded straight up for T.Y. Hilton. I would do either of those deals if I am a contender and need a little extra firepower in the WR room. He finished as WR10 last year in PPR leagues, and I could easily see him being a low-end WR1 again or, at worst, a very reliable WR2 with WR1 weeks in 2021.
Jefferson defied pretty much everyone’s expectations of him in his rookie year, including my own. What he achieved is truly phenomenal when you consider the lack of pre-season in 2020 and the fact he hardly played in the first two games. Jefferson had the third-most receiving yards of any WR in the NFL as a rookie! He only scored seven TDs last season and still finished as the WR7 in PPR formats!
I don’t think I need to spend all day waxing lyrical over JJ’s future, but I will do so to blow your mind a little.
Justin Jefferson: rookie impact
- Demanded a 25.7% target share which was 9th best in the NFL
- Had 450 yards after catch (YAC) which was 8th best
- Averaged 2.65 yards per route run which was 5th best in the NFL.
(image courtesy of The Athletic)
Need I say more?
If you have him, lucky you! If you can somehow acquire him for anything resembling a reasonable price, I would suggest doing that! He is the future of the Vikings receiving corps, and the sky is truly the limit for this young stud.
Smith-Marsette is the new kid on the block for the Vikes. He was selected in the fifth round of this year’s draft out of Iowa (the same school as Nwangwu). Similar to Nwangwu, he is incredibly gifted athletically. He was a jack-of-all-trades in Iowa, emphasizing elite return game ability (he averaged 22 yards per return last season). He contributed as a returner, pass catcher, and even as a rusher out of the backfield. He is a little thin at 181 pounds, but he has a great toolset, and the depth chart in Minnesota is thin behind Jefferson and Thielen.
If your league awards return yardage, I would definitely want to snag Ihmir. I think Smith-Marsette is worthy of a later-round pick regardless, given his athletic upside and the potential opportunity he will have with the Vikings. He is being selected from the late third to the fifth or even sixth round in rookie drafts. If your rookie draft is already over, check the waivers or try to get him as a “throw in” on a bigger deal.
Irv Smith Jr.
I must admit I am very much conflicted when it comes to Big Irv. I like him as a player, and I can see how he COULD be an elite option in a gruesome TE landscape for fantasy. The problem seems to lie mainly with the Vikings, to be honest.
(image courtesy of twincities.com)
They seem to prefer utilizing two tight ends fairly equally, and they only pass to the TE position 22% of the time. This does not sound like an alarming percentage, but as we talked about earlier, they are a run-first team, so 22% of the pie is only equal to 107 pass attempts last season, which was 22nd in the league. Irv only got 43 of those targets in 2020, which was down from 47 in 2019.
I think most of us were hoping that eventually Kyle Rudolph would move on and Irv could ascend. Rudolph has moved on this offseason to the Giants, and the initial buzz on the dynasty streets was it was #IrvSmithSzn, but unfortunately, I am a little skeptical myself.
Rudolph missed weeks 14-17 last season, which you would think would mean it was Smith’s time to shine. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. His workload stayed more or less the same, and Tyler Conklin stepped into the Rudolph role and had nearly identical receptions and yardage over that time. The negative icing on the disappointment cake is that I have even heard some rumors coming from the Vikings camp that although Smith looks great this offseason, there is no expectation that his role will massively change in 2021.
I think for me, Smith stays in the dart throw category, unfortunately. I don’t foresee him getting the necessary volume to be an elite option for you in dynasty. I am fine holding onto him and seeing how things continue to progress. However, if I get a manager super excited about the potential and wants to overpay, I am fine taking a haul for him and moving on.
A lot of dynasty managers may not even know the name, Tyler Conklin. I don’t blame you. He was a fifth-round pick by the Vikings in 2018 and has done virtually nothing since. Conklin was a walk-on at Central Michigan in college and had a very limited career. He played well at the Senior Bowl and impressed NFL teams with his workout metrics at the combine that year.
Minnesota loves themselves an athletic tight end prospect, and the rest is history. Finally getting his chance last season when Rudolph was injured, he performed admirably, and the buzz in camp so far seems to be that he will see an increased role in the offense this year. This further dampens my enthusiasm for Irv and makes Tyler an intriguing stash on any TE premium leagues you might be in. The good thing is, he is free in most leagues, so he won’t cost you much to stash and see.
Speaking of super-athletic tight-end prospects, Davidson was the latest to join the “fifth-round TE club” in Minneapolis (they have jackets!).
Davidson is a fascinating prospect who doubled as a Punter AND TE at Central Missouri. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, he is incredibly athletic and had MONSTER production in 2019. He averaged over 22 yards per reception and scored 15 TDs at the TE position, albeit in D2.
(image courtesy of vikings.com)
Central Missouri did not play any games in 2020 due to Covid-19 so there was even less buzz than you would expect from someone with this production level under their belt. Again, in a deeper league, especially a TE premium league, Davidson is an intriguing prospect to throw a dart at.
Another solid fantasy season is on the Purple and Gold stud-muffins cards, though I am less confident of the actual NFL fortunes for my 2021 Vikes. A better offensive line should only make the run game more dominant. A potentially improved defense could hinder the shootouts, but Kirk’s accuracy should still be enough to make Thielen and Jefferson very appealing WR options.
Key takeaways for me are:
- If you are a contender, go get a deal on Thielen.
- Kirk Cousins is a solid (and cheapish) QB2 option in SuperFlex.
- If you can, go get a share of Jefferson.
- Don’t expect the world from Irv.
- Dart throws of Conklin and Davidson aren’t the worst thing in the world in TE premium.
- Smith-Marsette is a sneaky value right now.
- Enjoy another season of domination from Dalvin.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it and hope it was helpful. Hit me up on Twitter @FFEvanlution if you wanna chat about anything I covered or just get into some general fantasy football banter.
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