The Vikings 2020 season will be a high-scoring affair. Per Sharp Football’s Strength of Schedule metrics, listed below, Minnesota is set to face an onslaught of dominant offenses backed by a savannah of barren, weak defenses. The Vikings defense is well coached but faces notable roster turnover—on top of the aforementioned brutal slate of opposing offenses. The game pace will be pushed significantly faster than ball-control HC Mike Zimmer will want, forcing more pass attempts to Adam Thielen. Dual threat RB Dalvin Cook is therefore in line for a monster workload in the passing game as well. TE Irv Smith Jr. has a shot to leapfrog veteran Kyle Rudolph this year—he’s an excellent late round pick.
Sharp Football’s Strength of Schedule:
- 13th softest overall schedule
- 5th softest in terms of terms of the opponent’s overall defensive efficiency
- 3rd softest blend of pass defenses
- 10th softest in terms of the opponent’s pass defense efficiency
- 14th softest blend of rush defenses
- 12th softest in terms of the opponent’s run defense efficiency
- 4th toughest in terms of the opponent’s overall offensive efficiency
- 5th toughest in terms of the opponent’s offensive pass efficiency
- 9th toughest in terms of the opponent’s offensive run efficiency
The offseason trade of WR Stefon Diggs robbed QB Kirk Cousins of a top tier downfield threat, capping his long-TD upside and Cousins hasn’t posted a top 12 finish since 2017, when he was the QB7 overall. The way this schedule is shaping up though, Cousins looks like a prime candidate to be a solid QB platoon option. Although owners may be reticent to start him against lockdown defenses like the Tennessee Titans (Week 3), the Chicago Bears (Weeks 10 and 15), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 14), or the New Orleans Saints (Week 16), Cousins also faces bevvy of Good Offense/Bad Defense teams that he can feast on. To name a few: the Houston Texans (Week 4), the Seattle Seahawks (Week 5), the Atlanta Falcons (Week 6), the Detroit Lions (Week 9), the Dallas Cowboys (Week 11), the Carolina Panthers (Week 12), and the Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 13). Take him at his 13.01, QB23 .5PPR ADP or more likely, add him off of the waiver wire and get a Top 12-15 QB option a little to no cost.
If Dalvin Cook did not have such an extensive injury history, it’s possible he’d bounce Saquon Barkley out of the top three at running back. The SC joint injury in his shoulder caused fumbling problems last year and it’s likely that it was the same shoulder that’s been a problem since he tore a shoulder labrum in 2014. He’s battled an ACL tear and hamstring issues over that timeframe as well. Of the 48 possible regular season games that the Vikings have played in his 3-year career, Cook has been active for just 29 of them. If drafting Cook, you need to play it safe and plan to draft his primary backup Alexander Mattison.
That said, with the swiss-cheese slate of defenses Cook is set to face this year, he should have no problem contending for a top three RB finish every week. Perhaps an added bonus, with the Vikings playing so many good offenses, they are likely to be losing quite a bit. If that’s the case, Cook’s more likely to receive targets in place of carries as the game script forces Minnesota to pass more. Getting targets—more highly valued from a production standpoint—and not being asked to grind through defensive lines so often could decrease Cook’s chances of sustaining a serious injury. Cook’s .5PPR 1.09, RB7 ADP is an acceptable area to draft him, given his ceiling. However, a running back like Joe Mixon or Miles Sanders or a wide receiver like Tyreek Hill or Julio Jones may prove to be safer options with similar ceilings.
Pure rusher Alexander Mattison has asserted himself as the coach’s favorite for backup duties. Mike Boone brings a more diverse dual threat skillset to the table but HC Mike Zimmer just prefers a banger on 1st and 2nd down. As such, Mattison is a top flight handcuff running back. Cook owners should target him—as should non-Cook owners. There’s enough of an injury risk with Cook that Mattison is worth a bench stash. Disclaimer: Handcuffing in non-elite situations is not a recommended strategy. Taking up two roster spots for one mediocre back is more of a “playing not to lose” strategy than it is a winning one. Selecting Mattison at, or slightly ahead of, his 10.04, RB44 .5PPR ADP is reasonable cost to pay.
With Stefon Diggs gone and the Vikings unlikely to deploy a heavy helping of 3-wide receiver personnel groupings, the competition for No. 2 receiver duties is on. Olabisi Johnson has played well in limited opportunities. Tajae Sharpe is largely a “once had potential” kind of player. But the rookie Justin Jefferson looks like the favorite to seize the job. Jefferson was a downright dominant slot receiver at LSU last year, which helps the team make up for the absence of Stefon Diggs. Diggs mostly occupied the downfield role, running his routes on the perimeter while Adam Thielen switched between the perimeter and the slot. With Diggs gone, Thielen will be forced to take more reps outside and voila—the Vikes have their slot replacement in Jefferson. Given the COVID-stunted training camp, we should keep our overall box score expectations for Jefferson tempered, at least at the start of the season. Correspondingly Jefferson’s .5PPR ADP of 10.11, WR48 is appropriate as a deep flex option whose role, and production, should grow as the season progresses.
Meanwhile, Adam Thielen is staring down the barrel of a likely career-high in targets. Through the first six games of 2019, Thielen was the WR9 in .5PPR scoring. A pulled hamstring in Week 7 derailed the rest of his season. He made a premature comeback in Week 9 and immediately re-aggravated it. He was then unable to retake the field until Week 15. Prior to 2019 though, Thielen had been a paragon of health, never missing a game in his then-5-year career. In 2017 and 2018 Thielen finished 9th (142) and 7th (153), respectively, in the NFL in targets. Notably, Diggs even finished 9th (149) in total targets in 2018. It’s not unreasonable to wonder if Thielen may challenge Michael Thomas and Davante Adams for the overall lead in targets this year—somewhere around the 170-target mark. His .5PPR ADP of 3.08, WR12 is perhaps the single greatest value of the first three rounds. I have him No. 20 overall in my Top 100, as the WR6.
My audio thoughts on Adam Thielen’s impending King Kong season can be found here.
With the frequent use of two-tight end sets, Irv Smith Jr. and Kyle Rudolph should both see the field often. However, it’s been clear for a few seasons now that Rudolph is on the downslope of his career. But second-year tight end Irv Smith Jr. is just getting started. Smith Jr. flashed potential as a receiving game weapon in 2019 but was unable to carve out much of a role for himself. Training camp reports currently indicate that the team has been lining him up out wide—usage that would bode very well for his 2020 prospects. Smith Jr. is a fine pick to make with your final draft selection.
Dan Bailey is an excellent kicker to target. We want good kickers in great offenses.
The Minnesota Vikings D/ST will be a match up-based streaming option. Too many good defenses will pummel them but there will be sack/turnover opportunity in some cases.