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2021 Minnesota Vikings Fantasy Team Outlook: Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson & Adam Thielen Maxed Out Last Year

A fantasy football breakdown of the Minnesota Vikings by high-stakes legend Shawn Childs

Coaching

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Mike Zimmer will run the Vikings franchise for the seventh year. Minnesota has 10 victories or more in three of his last six seasons. He has a career 64-47-1 record with three playoff appearances (2-3). In six seasons prior to his Vikings HC tenure, Zimmer was the Bengals defensive coordinator. He has 21 years of coaching experience while helping the Cowboys win the Super Bowl in 1995. 

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 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. Both 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 allowed (475 – 29th) and yards allowed (27th – 14th in 2019). They allowed 172 points more than the previous season.

Free Agency

All of Minnesota’s free agent moves came on defense. 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 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.

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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.

Minnesota also added DT Dalvin Tomlinson. He played well over his career against the run while delivering 49 tackles and 3.5 sacks in each of the past two seasons.

Draft

T Christian Darrisaw

Darrisaw's 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 vision to cover a significant portion of the field. The only thing holding him back is motivation. Minnesota expects him to have a long career for them at left tackle.

QB Kellen Mond

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 questionable arm strength in the deep passing game. The Vikings hope he can develop into a productive game manager.

LB Chazz Surratt

Surratt has limited experience playing linebacker, but he brings a warrior feel to the game. His biggest challenge will be to overcome his lack of size (6’2” and 230 lbs.) while also needing to get stronger. Surratt has shown a high work ethic, pointing high upside once he improves his vision and decision-making in traffic.

G Wyatt Davis

Davis wants to beat his man to the punch after the snap, but his range is limited. He’ll handle power rushers in pass protection while getting caught up with his reads and movements when facing moving targets in traffic and open space.

DE Patrick Jones

Jones spent plenty of time in the backfield in college, creating losses and sacks. His motor doesn’t always fire and struggles 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.

RB Kene Nwangwu

Nwangwu gets a knock for lack of experience with the ball in his hands, but he may still have plenty of room for growth. He needs to feel holes open while knowing when to hit the gas to win in tight quarters. His speed makes him an interesting developmental project.

CB Camryn Byrum

Byrum plays at a high level with the tools to excel at many levels. Unfortunately, his speed 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.

DE Janarius Robinson

He looks the part of an upside pass rusher with tools that cause problems for blocking schemes. His vision and tackling rank below par with questions about his desire on some plays.

WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette

Smith-Marsette needs to add bulk 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 lacks in his route running with questions about his hands.

TE Zach Davidson

Davidson has 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.

DT Jaylen Twyman

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 gets washed out by the big bodies. He was shot four times this offseason in a tragic assault. He is expected to make a full recovery.


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Offensive Line

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

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.

Offense

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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.

Quarterbacks

Kirk Cousins

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. Cousins offers matchup value as a QB2 with a floor of 250 yards and two touchdowns per game. Fantasy owners price him as the 16th quarterback drafted in 2021.

Kellen Mond

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

Running Backs

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.

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Dalvin Cook

Cook finished second in running back scoring (341.00) in PPR leagues in 2020 despite missing two games for the second 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 and 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.

Alexander Mattison

In Week 5, Mattison came off the bench to gain 136 combined yards with three catches on 23 touches. He started 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.

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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.

Other Options: Ameer Abdullah, Kene Nwangwu, A.J. Rose

Wide Receivers

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.

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Justin Jefferson

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.

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.

Fantasy Outlook: After finishing sixth in wide receiver scoring (274.20) in PPR leagues, Jefferson ranks eighth in the 12-team high-stakes market with an ADP of 24. His success commands more opportunity, 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.

Adam Thielen

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 in the fifth round in 12-team leagues as a back-end 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.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette

Over four seasons at Iowa, Smith-Marsette caught 110 passes for 1,615 yards and 14 touchdowns. He added 34 rushes for 274 yards and another four scores. His best year came in 2019 (44/830/8).

Fantasy Outlook: The Vikings want Smith-Marsette to stretch the field and add speed to their offense. He’ll have a minimal opportunity in 2021.

Bisi Johnson

Johnson finished his rookie season with 31 catches for 294 yards and three touchdowns on 45 targets over 13 games of action. He never gained over 45 yards in any contest while seeing his peak in catches (6) coming in Week 11.

In 2020, the Vikings only looked his way 19 times, leading to 14 catches for 189 yards. In his only start, Johnson had seven catches for 74 yards.

He came to the pros with strength in his route running. His foundation skill set in speed, strength, and quickness won’t separate him from the pack. Johnson will improve with more experience while working hard to understand his game plan and how defenders want to play against him. He’ll have value vs. zone coverage but struggle against physical press cornerbacks. Johnson offers an edge with his hands.

Other Options: Chad Beebe, Blake Proehl, Dan Chisena, K.J. Osborn

Tight Ends

The tight end chances in the Vikings’ offense have been in a close range over the past three seasons. They tend to gain about 20 percent of the team’s passing yards and some chances to score in close on play-action passes. Minnesota did make longer plays with their tight ends in 2020 (11.5 yards per catch).

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Irv Smith

Smith came into the NFL with a raw skill set with questions with his route running and blocking. He runs well with the strength and quickness to threaten a defense in the deep passing game.

Over his 29 games with Minnesota, he has 66 catches for 676 yards and seven touchdowns on 90 targets. More of his chances came over four matchups (4/64, 4/55, 4/63/1, and 6/63/2). He missed three games in 2020 with groin and back issues.

The Vikings drafted Smith in the second round in 2019 after he caught 44 of 61 targets for 710 yards and seven touchdowns at Alabama.

Fantasy Outlook: With Kyle Rudolph no longer on the roster, Smith has a clear path to 70 percent of the Vikings’ tight end opportunity. His late June ADP (122) paints him as the 13th tight end drafted. I expect a jump to 60 catches for 600 yards with six to eight touchdowns.

Zach Davidson

His college career started in 2017 at Central Missouri as a punter. Davidson worked as a back tight end the following season, leading to 11 catches for 239 yards and three touchdowns. The growth in his receiving game pushed him to the starting lineup in 2019 (40/894/15) while continuing to handle the punting job.

Davidson went to a small school, so he’ll need time to develop with the Vikings. A player to follow, but his playing time should be minimal this year.

Other Options: Tyler Conklin, Brandon Dillon, Shane Zylstra

Kicker

Greg Joseph

In need of a new kicker, the Vikings signed Joseph in early February. He failed to win a job with the Titans last summer, which led to him landing on Tampa’s practice squad.

Joseph made 17 of his 20 field goals (85 percent) over 14 games in his rookie season. His struggles came with extra points (25-for-29). He made one of his two chances from 50 yards or more.

Minnesota added Riley Patterson in May to compete for their placekicker job. Over four seasons at Memphis, he made 77.1 percent of his 83 field goals, with most of his misses coming from 50 yards or more (9-for-18).

In 2020, the Vikings scored 55 touchdowns while ranking poorly in field goals (15-for-22).

The winning kicker may come from elsewhere. Each option should start the season on the waiver wire in fantasy leagues.

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Defense

Minnesota dropped to 27th in rushing yards (2,151) with 19 touchdowns and only six runs over 20 yards. They allowed 4.6 yards per rush, with opponents attempting 29.5 carries per game.

The Vikings slipped to 25th in the league in passing yards allowed (4,141) with 30 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Quarterbacks gained 7.9 yards per pass attempt while being sacked 23 times.

DE Danielle Hunter

Over the last two seasons, Hunter has been an impressive player rushing the quarterback (29 sacks over 32 games) while also being productive in tackles (142). His run defense also ranks highly in most seasons. Unfortunately, a neck injury required surgery last October, costing him the whole season. Minnesota expected him to be ready for the start of the season.

DE D.J. Wonnum

Wonnum fits the bill as a pass-rushing talent with a combination of explosiveness and strength. He made 24 tackles with three sacks in his rookie season, and one defended pass over 14 games while making only two starts. His trick is creating more depth in his pass rush moves while adding the finishing power to defeat the bigger bodies on the offensive line. Wonnum doesn’t have elite speed, which limits his range in run support.

DT Michael Pierce

Minnesota brought in Pierce to help upgrade the defensive line against the run. Over 60 career games in Baltimore, he only has 3.5 sacks, which paints him more of an early player defending the run. He opted out of 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns.

DT Sheldon Richardson

Over his first four seasons with the Jets after getting drafted in the first round in 2013, Richardson developed into an elite run defender while also adding 18 sacks over 58 starts. He spent the past four years with the Seahawks, Vikings, and Browns. At age 30, Richardson falls into the steady category vs. the run. He has 12 sacks over his past 48 games while delivering 126 tackles in his two seasons in Cleveland.

DT Dalvin Tomlinson

The addition of Tomlinson in the offseason gives Minnesota a third player with strength slowing down the run up the middle. He secured 207 tackles and eight sacks over four seasons with the Giants while suiting up for every game. His value in the pass rush isn’t impactful, but Tomlinson can get to the quarterback at times.

Rising Stars: Anthony Barr IMAGE

LB Anthony Barr

In 2019, Barr finished with a career-high in tackles (79) with 1.5 sacks, one interception, and four defended passes. A pectoral injury in Week 2 ended his season after two starts. His run defense has been up and down in his career while ranking poorly in pass coverage in each of the past three full seasons. Barr does have some sneaky value rushing the quarterback in some games.

LB Eric Kendricks

Kendrick extended his streak of over 100 tackles (107) to five seasons while also setting a career-best in interceptions (3). Over his five years in the NFL, he only has nine sacks over 85 games, with four of those coming in his rookie season. Kendrick missed five games in 2020 with a calf issue. His run defense tends to be around the league average, but a better supporting cast will help him reach a higher ceiling. Over the past two years, he played well in coverage.

LB Chazz Surratt

The weakside linebacker position looks to be in flux this year. The Vikings invested in Surratt in this year’s draft, and his game has the highest ceiling. At the very least, he should work his way into a rotational role in his rookie season.

CB Patrick Peterson

For most of his career with Arizona, Peterson lived on an island defending the opponents’ top wide receiver. He continues to make plenty of tackles (168 over his last 42 games) while picking up seven interceptions over the past three seasons. He’ll upgrade the Vikings’ secondary, but Peterson won’t see as much single coverage.

CB Jeff Gladney

Gladney picked up 81 tackles in his rookie season, but he rarely made plays on the ball in the passing game. His tackling was also an issue. Receivers finished with a high catch rate with success after the catch and touchdowns.

Minnesota would love for his game to make a significant step forward in 2021. They also protected their CB2 position by adding more veteran depth in the offseason.

S Harrison Smith

Smith remains one of the top playmaking safeties in the NFL. Last year he posted 89 tackles, a half-sack, five interceptions, and 10 defended passes. He typically is one of the better run defenders in the league for his position while minimizing the damage in coverage.

S Xavier Woods

His run defense has been a liability in two of his previous three years. Over the last two seasons in Dallas, Woods made 149 tackles with two interceptions and six defended passes. He had more struggles in coverage in 2020, leading to a bump in touchdowns allowed. For the most part, Woods doesn’t defend many passes while allowing short yards per catch.

Fantasy Defense Snapshot

Injuries and the lack of development of their young players led to the Vikings’ defense falling to the bottom of the league in 2020. The return of DE Danielle Hunter gives Minnesota massive help in the pass rush. They added run-stopping talent on the defensive line while addressing their shortfalls at the cornerback position. The Vikings’ defense ranks 24th in the early fantasy draft season. I expect them to be much improved, with the key being the rebound in the pass rush. They are a viable matchup option with buy-and-hold upside.

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