2021 Vikings Fantasy Football Preview: They’ll go as far as Dalvin Cook can carry them

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The Vikings doubled down on their run-first approach in 2020, as Dalvin Cook averaged 22.3 carries per game even as their defense fell from fifth in points allowed to 29th. It’s clear they’ll try to do that as much as they can — and as long as Cook’s body can manage. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the passing game to thrive, as we saw in 2020, but there isn’t much room for anyone beyond Justin Jefferson to Adam Thielen to thrive. 

2020 Review

Record: 7 – 9 (17)
PPG: 26.9 (11)
YPG: 393.3 (4)
Pass YPG: 250.6 (14)
Rush YPG: 142.7 (5)
PAPG: 32.3 (27)
RAPG: 29.3 (8)

2020 Fantasy finishes

QB: Kirk Cousins QB11
RB: Dalvin Cook RB2
WR: Justin Jefferson WR10, Adam Thielen WR11
TE: Irv Smith TE23, Kyle Rudolph TE38
*No longer with team

Number to know: 50%

When the score was within one possession either way, the Vikings ran the ball 50% of the time, the third-highest rate in the NFL. Of course, it’s no surprise the Vikings are one of the most run-heavy teams in the league, but it’s worth noting that the 50-attempt increase in passes from 2019 to 2020 was mostly the result of their defense putting them in more situations where they had to pass, as opposed to any kind of change in philosophy — 30.6% of their total plays in 2020 came while trailing by eight or more points, compared to just 5.5% in 2019. If you think the Vikings defense is going to take a step back to being an above-average unit in 2021, you should probably be a bit more conservative in your expectations for the Vikings pass defense. 

2021 Offseason

Draft Picks 

1. (23) Christian Darrisaw, OT
3. (66) Kellen Mond, QB
3. (78) Chazz Surratt, LB
3. (86) Wyatt Davis, G
3. (90) Patrick Jones II, DE
4. (119) Kene Nwangwu, RB
4. (125) Camryn Bynum, CB
4. (134) Janarius Robinson, DE
5. (157) Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR
5. (168) Zach Davidson, TE
6. (199) Jaylen Twyman, DT

Additions

DT Dalvin Tomlinson, CB Patrick Peterson, DT Sheldon Richardson, CB Bashaud Breeland, DE Stephen Weatherly, S Xavier Woods, OL Mason Cole

Key Departures

TE Kyle Rudolph, T Riley Reiff, S Anthony HArris, RB Mike Boone, LB Eric Wilson, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, CB Mike Hughes

Available Opportunity 

19 carries, 11 RB targets, 30 WR targets, 37 TE targets

Team Previews: Dolphins | Rams | Chargers | Raiders | Chiefs | Colts | Packers

2021 Preview

Chris Towers’ projections

QB Kirk Cousins PA: 528, YD: 4119, TD: 30, INT: 12RUSH — ATT: 34, YD: 85, TD: 2
RB Dalvin Cook CAR: 324, YD: 1492, TD: 9; TAR: 69, REC: 55, YD: 450, TD: 2
RB Alexander Mattison CAR: 97, YD: 445, TD: 2; TAR: 21, REC: 16, YD: 119, TD: 0
WR Justin Jefferson TAR: 132, REC: 90, YD: 1254, TD: 9
WR Adam Thielen TAR: 109, REC: 72, YD: 902, TD: 7
TE Irv Smith TAR: 92, REC: 65, YD: 679, TD: 5

Biggest Question

Just how good can Justin Jefferson be?

We’re already operating in pretty uncharted territory for Jefferson, who set the NFL record for receiving yards by a rookie with 1,400. So what does he do for an encore? You’d like to see more than 125 targets next season, and given how his role grew — 81 targets in his final eight games — it’s a safe bet. Can he be a No. 1 WR? Certainly, even in a low-volume passing game. Can he be the No. 1 WR? It’s harder to see that happening, though he should still be one of the first six or seven off the board in most leagues. .

One sleeper, one breakout and one bust

Smith is a popular breakout candidate, and it’s not hard to see why: After splitting work with Kyle Rudolph in two years since he entered the league, Smith is not the undisputed No. 1 option at the position. Career-best numbers are all but assured for the former second-rounder, who doesn’t turn 23 until Aug. 9, amazingly. If you’re going to wait at the position, Smith is an excellent target with one of your last few picks if he’s there, though I will say, don’t expect some kind of leap into the elite tier at the position: Even if you gave him all of Rudolph’s numbers from the past two seasons, he would have only ranked seventh and sixth at the position. 

What does a breakout even look like for Jefferson after his record-setting rookie season? It comes down to the touchdowns, really. He scored seven on 125 targets while Thielen scored 14 on 108. Jefferson took on a much larger role down the stretch for the Vikings overall, earning 81 targets in eight games, and he was on pace for 108 catches, 1,546 yards, and … eight touchdowns in that span. There’s no good reason to think Jefferson will struggle to score touchdowns moving forward, given his ability to win one on one and hit big plays, so the path to Jefferson competing for the top spot at the position in Fantasy is just three or four touchdowns moving from the Thielen column to the Jefferson one. That doesn’t feel like asking too much. 

There was a clear changing of the guard in Minneapolis last season, and if you didn’t notice it, it’s only because Thielen scored so many touchdowns. And hey, Thielen’s always been pretty good at that! But he isn’t going to score 14 touchdowns again, and entering his age-31 season, it’s hard to see things getting any better for Thielen from here. Jefferson emerged as a legitimate alpha No. 1 WR in the second half of the season, and if the Vikings pass less in 2021 — as I expect them to — it’s likely going to be Thielen who suffers. Thielen has had a nice career, but he’s the clear No. 2 in a low-volume passing offense, and he’s clearly in the decline phase of his career — his yards per target in 2020 was his lowest since he became a starter. I have him ranked as a low-end No. 3 WR, and if I’m right, a lot of people drafting him as a top-20 receiver are going to be pretty disappointed.

So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen’s huge season, and find out.





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