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Will Dalvin Cook prove to be a valuable fantasy football pick at the running back position or a flop in his rookie season?

By Pat Fitzmaurice
August 02, 2017

Dalvin Cook is an interesting Rorschach test for fantasy drafters. Do you see the college star who amassed 4,188 yards from scrimmage and 40 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Florida State, or the Scouting Combine flop who tested poorly in Indianapolis this spring? Do you see a potential three-down workhorse, or a rotational back who might not be used on passing downs or at the goal line? Do you look at Minnesota’s offensive line and worry that Cook won’t have holes to run through, or do you look at Minnesota’s schedule and lick your lips over a slate full of unimposing run defenses?

Running Backs

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Dalvin Cook RB24 RB16 Gamble on greatness
Latavius Murray RB36 RB45 Pass

Your assessment of Cook’s first-year value also depends on how you view top rookie running backs in general. Do you see them as poor risk propositions because they’re unproven commodities often taken before established veterans, or do you see them as potential values who can be acquired at discount prices because they have no professional track record? I tend to fall into the latter category, and I’m pretty bullish on Cook, who looks like the best value in this year’s rookie RB class.

Cook’s college tape is extremely convincing. The Vikings’ aggressive decision to relinquish draft capital to trade up and select Cook early in the second round when they were already without a first-round draft pick (which they gave up to acquire Sam Bradford last year) suggests that they see the rookie as much more than a rotational back. Minnesota’s offensive line might not be as bad as it’s perceived, and the Vikings’ schedule of run defenses looks Charmin-soft.

There is a precipitous drop-off at running back after the dozen or so come off the board, and I’d rather have Cook at his fifth-round ADP of RB24 than any back in the RB14-23 range.

The selection of Cook justifiably squelched whatever fantasy enthusiasm there might have been for Latavius Murray, who was enticed to leave Oakland for the snowy plains of Minnesota after being offered a three-year, $15 million contract that included more than $8.5 million in guaranteed money. Murray finished RB13 in fantasy scoring last year, deriving value more from his 12 touchdowns than from his 1,052 scrimmage yards. Yardage per carry is by no means a foolproof stat, but it was somewhat telling that Murray averaged 4.0 yards per carry last season while his two rookie backups, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, averaged 5.9 and 5.4 yards per carry, respectively. I think the best-case scenario for Murray this year is a minority share of a platoon with Cook along with goal-line duty, in which case he has a reasonable chance to justify his RB36 price. The worst-case scenario is strict backup duty behind a three-down stud, and since I don’t think that’s an inconceivable outcome, I’m not interested in Murray at his early-eighth-round ADP.

The Vikings might use Jerrick McKinnon as their passing-down back, though it’s not clear if that’s the plan. McKinnon tests out as a top athlete and has at least proven during his three seasons in Minnesota that he’s worthy of a roster spot, but it’s pretty clear that the Vikings don’t view him as a major contributor.

Wide Receivers

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Stefon Diggs WR33 WR23 Grab him
Adam Thielen WR49 WR43 Buy

I love both of the Vikings’ starting wide receivers and will be trying to get one or the other in every one of my drafts this year. Stefon Diggs’ ADP is WR33; Adam Thielen’s is WR49. The price tag on Diggs is so absurdly low that you’d think a newly hired employee made a mistake while operating the price gun. Thielen is merely a solid value.

My appreciation for Diggs is more film-based than stats-based. He has a chance to establish himself as one of the best route runners in the league. It might just be a matter of staying healthy—Diggs was slowed by a variety of lower-body injuries in 2016. He had 16 catches for 285 yards and a touchdown in his first two games of 2016, and he had consecutive 13-catch games vs. Detroit and Washington in November. Diggs finished with 84 catches in 13 games, with an outstanding catch rate of 75.7% Still only 23, Diggs has a rosy career outlook.

Home-state fan favorite Adam Thielen began sizzling a month into his third NFL season, producing at a 75-catch and nearly 1,100-yard pace from Week 5 on. A former undrafted free agent from Minnesota State, Thielen received a three-year contract extension in the offseason and is locked in as a starter opposite Diggs. NFL.com’s Alex Gelhar (@AlexGelhar) recently noted that Thielen was one of only four receivers targeted at least 70 times in 2016 to have a catch rate of better than 70% while averaging more than 12.0 yards per catch. (The others were Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry and Doug Baldwin.) Thielen has an 11th-round ADP of WR48, and at that point in drafts, getting Thielen is stealin’.

The Vikings’ first-round draft pick last year, Laquon Treadwell of Ole Miss, dealt with injuries throughout his rookie season and had one catch in nine games. He appears ticketed to be Minnesota’s No. 3 receiver, a role that warrants no more than an end-of-draft flyer in deeper leagues. Talented but green, Treadwell is still a year or two away from potential impact. The Vikings signed former Cardinals first-round draft pick Michael Floyd in the offseason, but Floyd tested positive for alcohol after his sentencing for a December DUI and will serve a four-game suspension to start the season. The physically gifted but perennially disappointing Floyd has no fantasy value.

Tight Ends

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Kyle Rudolph TE10 TE6 Pounce

Kyle Rudolph dwells in the middle-class TE tier below the upscale neighborhood occupied by Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed, Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham. If you aren’t doing your tight end shopping on Rodeo Drive, Rudolph makes an excellent draft target. He finished second in TE fantasy scoring last year, led all tight ends in targets (132) and posted a healthy 83-840-7 stat line. Rudolph somehow has a lower ADP (TE10) than Hunter Henry, which is preposterous. Rudolph and Eric Ebron are the top values at the position.

Quarterbacks

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Sam Bradford QB25 QB21 Buy in 2-QB leagues

Sam Bradford appeared to be set up to fail last season, going from the Eagles to the Vikings in a trade just a week before the start of the regular season, then having his injury-plagued offensive line crumble in front of him. Yet somehow Bradford managed to turn in the best season of his career, completing a league-best 71.6% of his passes, throwing for a career-high 3,877 yards, and tossing 20 touchdown passes vs. only five interceptions. The quick-passing attack devised by Pat Shurmur (who had previously worked with Bradford in St. Louis) in an attempt to minimize pressure seemed to suit Bradford well. Shurmur and Bradford should be able to get a little more aggressive this year with a healthier offensive line, and Diggs, Thielen and Rudolph form a capable trio of pass catchers. Bradford has an ADP of QB25 after finishing QB21 under adverse circumstances last year. There’s only one good pass defense in the NFC North, and Bradford doesn’t have to face it. In fact, Bradford appears to have one of the most favorable 2016 schedules of any quarterback in the league. Bradford is a solid value and makes a fine, relatively inexpensive second quarterback in 2-QB and superflex leagues.

The man Bradford replaced, Teddy Bridgewater, will probably start the season on the PUP list and may or may not be available by midseason. Bridgewater was an ascending player at the time of his gruesome knee injury last summer, though he still seemed a long way from being an impactful fantasy contributor. I’ve seen him get drafted in some extremely deep leagues, but I’ll be surprised if Bridgewater plays this season. If Bradford goes down, journeyman Case Keenum will probably get the nod. 

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