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Minnesota Vikings Writers
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While new head coach Kevin O'Connell comes from the Sean McVay coaching tree, he's less married to the zone block runs that made McVay's scheme famous and has spoken in the past about the importance of having multiple looks on offense, mixing in power and gap blocking schemes as well to counter defenses that have built around stopping the zone. Because of the variety of run plays, O'Connell is less devoted to passing out of play-action than most offensive coaches, leaning more on a quick rhythm attack that, instead of using the run to set up the pass, relies on the pass to set up the pass.
Kirk Cousins continues to be that middle-range quarterback that fantasy football is afraid to draft as a QB1. Cousins has finished as a top 11 quarterback in six of the last seven seasons coming off a QB9 performance last season. With Justin Jefferson as his top target it is hard to write off Cousins' upside and his floor he looks like he is locked in once again as a top 12 type of quarterback for 2022. In 16 games in 2021 Cousins threw for 4,221 passing yards along with 33 touchdowns and only threw seven interceptions. He doesn't give you much on the ground but he has scored at least one rushing touchdown in each of the last seven seasons. Cousins has all the weapons to succeed in Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook K.J. Osborn, and Irv Smith Jr.
Behind Kirk Cousins, the Vikings decided to trade for Nick Mullens during the preseason, probably because they weren't happy with Sean Mannion or Kellen Mond. Mannion doesn't give you much offensively but he has experience in game action appearing in 12 games over the last four years. Kellen Mond is athletic and has a high theoretical ceiling, but he has shown no signs of being able to get there.
Dalvin Cook continues to be one of the elite running backs in the league but his only downfall is his lack to play a full season. He has never played more than 14 games in a season and over the last four seasons has averaged 13 games played. When he is on the field he is electric as he can do it all in the backfield with rushing, scoring touchdowns, and helping in the receiving game. In 41 games over the last three seasons, he has scored a total of 36 touchdowns. He has finished as the RB5, RB3, and RB15 in 14, 14, and 13 games over the past three seasons. The key with Cook will always be, how many games he can actually play in the season. If you could predict a full season for Cook you would have to safely put him early in the 1st round of fantasy drafts.
With Dalvin Cook always a question mark when it comes to health, the most reliable handcuff running back in the fantasy circles might be Alexander Mattison. Mattison started four games in 2021 and in those four games along he totaled 356 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns, 19 receptions, 162 receiving yards, and another touchdown receiving. Those numbers are very strong for a backup running back that gets inserted into the offense when the starter Cook goes down. Kene Nwangwu is the third back on the depth chart and saw the field more as a special teams player in 2021, only seeing 29 total offensive snaps for 13 carries and four receptions. He has speed that they like as a returner, but if something were to happen with Cook or Alexander he might see more opportunities in the offense. Another name now on the depth chart is Ty Chandler who the Vikings drafted in the fifth round and will come in to compete with Nwangwu and Rose for work behind Cook and Mattison.
- Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Bisi Johnson, Jalen Nailor, Dan Chisena, Myron Mitchell, Blake Proehl, Trishton Jackson
Justin Jefferson continues to amaze with his start to his NFL career as he has finished as the WR6 and WR4 overall in both of those seasons. Jefferson is coming off a 108/1616/10 stat line in 2021 and is in line to continue on those numbers and be the top overall wide receiver in 2022. Cousins continues to favor Jefferson, targeting him 167 times which is nearly 10 targets per game. Adam Thielen may be dealing with age playing against him but the stat sheet doesn't agree as he has 24 receiving touchdowns in 28 games played over the last two seasons. In 13 games last season Thielen quietly scored 10 touchdowns behind Jefferson and the duo remains one of the best 1-2 receivers in the league. With both Jefferson and Thielen scoring 10 touchdowns each it might surprise you that the third wide receiver on the team, K.J. Osborn also came away with seven touchdowns of his own in a breakout season for the sophomore. Osborn posted a 50/655/7 stat line after missing his entire rookie season in 2020. The Vikings might have the top three receivers in the league as the trio combined for 27 total touchdowns.
Outside of Jefferson, Thielen, and Osborn, any other wide receiver in this offense is going to have a hard time seeing reliable targets. The next on the list would be Ihmir Smith-Marsette who could see an uptick in production in year two. Smith-Marsette played three games in 2021 and saw six targets for a 5/116/2 stat line. If one of the top three were to miss any time opportunity could open up for Smith-Marsette. The Vikings also drafted Jalen Nailor to help with depth behind the big names and he might be able to battle Smith-Marsette and Bisi Johnson for some additional playing time.
- Irv Smith
The Vikings were expecting big things out of Irv Smit in 2021 but it was quickly sidetracked as he went down with a preseason knee injury. Smith has played a total of 26 games in his three-year career but is looking to put the injury from last season behind him and aiming to be that number three target on the team. "Last camp, I had a great camp and was looking forward to the season," Smith said. "But that momentum and everything, it hasn't slowed down. I'm very confident once I get back on the field I'm going to be 100 percent and we can keep building on that." There is potential for a bounce-back season for Smith in 2022 but the key will be in the hands of how quickly his rehab goes and when he is cleared to get on the field again.
With Tyler Conklin now off to the Jets and Smith still recovering from his injury, there is pressure on the backups as Mundt and Ellefson only had a combined single catch in 2021 and Davidson didn't even see the field. The Vikings also added Nick Muse in the seventh round of the draft to help with depth. With the lack of depth and Conklin leaving in free agency the Vikings are gambling on Irv Smith Jr.being ready to start the season.
- LT Christian Darrisaw
- LG Ezra Cleveland
- C Garrett Bradbury
- RG Ed Ingram
- RT Brian O'Neill
- Blake Brandel, Chris Reed, Austin Schlottmann
This group returns four of five starters from last season. Left tackle Christian Darrisaw was good in the running game as a rookie and should improve this year. Right tackle Brian O'Neill is above average in pass protection. Left guard Ezra Cleveland is a solid player, but the team might move on from center Garrett Bradbury. Ed Ingram (fourth round, LSU) emerged in the preseason to win the starting right guard position and could be a draft gem. Overall this is a solid group, about the middle of the pack.
Joseph had to spend time on five rosters between 2018-2020 before he finally found a home in Minnesota. He was a top 10 scoring kicker in 2021, thanks for 33 makes on 38 field goal attempts, including 7-of-9 from 50+ yards. The Vikings gave him a restricted free agent tender that gave them the right to match any offer. Joseph will get 2.43 million this year and hope to be accurate enough to earn a long-term contract next year. Add him to your last-round kicker list.
Primary punt returner Dede Westbrook is no longer with the team, leaving K.J. Osborn as the most experienced option. Osborn has been, to put it mildly, underwhelming to this point, so don't be surprised if the Vikings bring in more competition.
How will this defense perform without Mike Zimmer at the helm of the team? Their three-sack-a-game pace despite only having Danielle Hunter for seven of them was good enough to rate in the top five of the league, and they were also in the top half of the league in takeaways. Unfortunately, they were near the bottom of the league in points and yards allowed, so league scoring rules was a big factor in their 2021 value. The team kept all of the major defensive pieces from last year and chose not to rebuild under a new regime that includes defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, who will likely incorporate more 3-4 looks. They open the season with the Packers and Eagles, so we'll classify the Vikings as a wait-and-see team defense to pick up for matchups against the Bears, Jets, and Giants, with a chance to be among the startable units most weeks in leagues that don't score points and yards allowed.
The Minnesota Vikings defense is undergoing an overhaul for the first time in eight years. Head coach Mike Zimmer was also the team's defensive mastermind. Most observers believe the addition of defensive coordinator Ed Donatell signifies a switch to a 3-4 defense; however, Donatell himself indicates the Vikings will use both even and odd fronts like most of the league. Donatell served in the same position under head coach Vic Fangio in Denver. Although Fangio was himself fired in this same offseason as Zimmer, the well-seasoned coach is widely regarded as a great defensive mind. Franchises like the Rams, the Chargers, and now the Vikings wish to implement principles that propelled Fangio defenses to perennial top-ten finishes statistically. Notable characteristics include light boxes with infrequent but cleverly concealed blitzes and disguised pre-snap coverages in the back end.
The team cut prototypical 3-4 nose tackle Michael Pierce and signed defensive tackle Harrison Phillips from a 4-3 Buffalo defense. Dalvin Tomlinson will join Phillips in the interior defensive line in nickel sub-packages. Donatell will almost certainly deploy the nickel's 4-2 front more frequently than any other personnel package. Recent mid-round picks Armon Watts, James Lynch, and Esezi Otomewo will compete with journeyman Jonathan Bullard for a "starting role" in 3-4 base sets as Phillips's counterpart at defensive end while Tomlinson mans the nose. As linemen who play over the offensive line rather than outside, none offer value as defensive ends in IDP fantasy football. Gamers should typically target pass rushers who make their livings from alignments beyond the offensive tackles. As the Vikings starting nose tackle in odd fronts, Dalvin Tomlinson should retain a position designation of defensive tackle across fantasy football platforms. Tomlinson has averaged a pedestrian 49 tackles a season over his five-year career. The previous regime signed Tomlinson as an unrestricted free agent ahead of the 2021 season with hopes that he would continue to grow as an interior pass-rusher. His totals of 2.5 QB sacks and 7 QB hits signify their disappointment.
Phillips can function as the backup nose tackle behind Tomlinson. The team will likely use a rotation at the defensive end position opposite Phillips, so the defensive end backups will be whichever out of Watts, Otomewo, Twyman, Lynch, and Bullard that don't win the ceremonial starting job.
- OLB D.J. Wonnum, ILB Brian Asamoah [R], ILB Chazz Surratt, ILB Troy Dye, OLB Patrick Jones, OLB Janarius Robinson, OLB Kenny Willekes, ILB Blake Lynch
Fantasy gamers are praying that the redesignation of Danielle Hunter from defensive end to linebacker is a bigger misdirection than any of Ed Donatell's blitz reads! The Vikings signed outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith, formerly of the Ravens and Packers, to bookend Hunter this spring. This duo of edge rushers might be the most feared in the NFL in 2022 if they can stay healthy. Smith missed all of 2021 with a back injury. Hunter lost his 2020 season to a neck injury and suffered a year-ending pectoral muscle tear seven games into the 2021 campaign.
The talent drop from the starters to the reserves is more severe at outside linebacker than any other unit on the defense. Young players who have yet to emerge or even take the field stand behind Hunter and Smith. Third-year man D.J. Wonnum has the inside track as the first pass-rusher off the bench. He had his moments playing in relief of Hunter last year but struggled to make a consistent impact. Five of his 8.0 QB sacks came at the expense of the futile Bears offense in 2021. Kenny Willekes, Patrick Jones II, and Janarius Robinson round out the rotation. A rookie is poised to push Hicks for playing time for yet another season. The Vikings spent their third-round pick, the 66th overall, on Brian Asamoah. The former Oklahoma Sooner is a lighter player who profiles as a coverage linebacker. Hicks has failed to hold opposing quarterbacks to a rating of less than 100 in three of the past four seasons according to Pro Football Reference. The two could complement each other in a committee based on in-game circumstances. A set of young players accrued by the previous regime including Blake Lynch, Troy Dye, Chazz Surratt, and Ryan Connelly constitutes depth at inside linebacker for the 2022 Minnesota Vikings.
- CB Cameron Dantzler, S Camryn Bynum, CB Akayleb Evans [R], S Josh Metellus, CB Parry Nickerson, CB Kris Boyd
While the star power of the Vikings defense clearly rests in its second level, the defensive backfield enjoys name recognition as well. Cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Harrison Smith have 14 Pro Bowl berths between them but enter 2022 on the backsides of their careers. Rookies could join both thirty-somethings in the starting line-up by rookies on opening day. Safety Lewis Cine and cornerback Andrew Booth were the Vikings' first two picks in the 2022 NFL draft. They'll push Camryn Bynum and Cameron Dantzler, respectively, for starting roles in the back end of Minnesota's defense. Patrick Peterson has a reputation as a shutdown corner and ballhawk; however, age has taken its toll. He and Dantzler lacked the skills to hold up in man coverage, as Mike Zimmer might have preferred in 2021. Unless Booth is an absolute revelation in 2022, Ed Donatell is likely to similarly rely on zone coverages. The second-round pick from Clemson has talent but was no match for Chris Olave in the 2020 NCAA semifinal vs. Ohio State.
Rookie Lewis Cine of Georgia appears likely to start alongside Harrison Smith at safety. The Bulldog profiles as an eventual replacement for Smith. Cine was successful as a split safety and earned a reputation as a downhill banger. Mike Zimmer deployed the veteran Smith all over the field for blitz opportunities and run-stopping assignments. Throughout his ten-year career, he has played fewer than half of his snaps deep. He has lined up in the slot, the box, and even along the defensive line, acting as a defensive weapon. Mike Zimmer's frequent Cover-3 zones deployed a free safety in a single-high role, which freed up Smith to roam. Cine does not fit the mold of deep safety. He's likely to pair with Smith in more two-high looks, which will limit Smith's opportunities to patrol the line of scrimmage. Ed Donatell's disguised coverages require its two safeties to operate more interchangeably in single-high looks as well. Opposing quarterbacks are challenged to predict which will fall back and if one will rotate down to attack as the defense threatens to transition from Cover-3 to Cover-2 at the snap of the football.
The Vikings signed Chandon Sullivan away from divisional rival Green Bay to man the slot. The former Packer will be the first defensive back off the bench and a fixture in Ed Donatell's nickel sets. Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand, Tye Smith, Josh Metellus, Nate Hairston, and Parry Nickerson provide depth in the Vikings' defensive backfield entering 2022. Joining Booth from the 2022 NFL draft is cornerback Akayleb Evans, a fourth-rounder who profiles as a zone-coverage specialist.