Minnesota Vikings Team Preview

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    The Jekyll and Hyde Vikings continue to be unpredictable as they contend when they appear to be rebuilding and then rebuild just when they should start trying to contend.  After going 11-0 in one-score games two seasons ago, the magic finally ran out and while they couldn’t stop competing in close games, they finished 7-10 and finally had a team that reflected their record.

    It came as a surprise to no one that after a season where everything went right, last season nearly everything went wrong.  The first domino to fall was Justin Jefferson (WR26) who got hurt in Week 5 and didn’t look like the WR1 again until Week 16.  This team was always a house of cards, but Jefferson was the joker in the deck that kept it from toppling over.  Without him, Kirk Cousins was mortal and that was no more evident than when he went down in Week 8 with an Achilles tear.  The most ironic part of the Vikings season was that they started winning after JJ went down, ripping off a five-game winning streak.  The Vikings remain hard to root for and impossible to bet on, but as they turn the page on their veteran QB, the JJ MacCarthy era begins anew, and the rookie couldn’t be walking into a better situation.  Regardless how of you feel about MacCarthy or the Vikings in general, no one has Jefferson outside of their top-three WRs and almost everyone has him closer to one than three.  If that wasn’t enough, the Vikings hit the jackpot again with sophomore Jordan Addison (WR19) who was a little boom-or-bust last season but was also a rookie WR forced to elevate his role in a system of revolving QBs.  Addison’s role will be in flux again this season as JJ returns to elite status, but the injury timeline concerning TE stud TJ Hockenson (TE4) will play a big role in determining whether Addison can improve upon his 17% target share from last season.

    Not to bury the lead, but the Vikings clearly were motivated to improve their run game which finished 28th or worse in rushing attempts, rushing yards, rushing TDs and rushing yards per-attempt last season.  They brought in veteran Aaron Jones from rival Green Bay who at age 29 will hope to rebound from an injury-plagued campaign and defy father time.  A healthy Jones is dual-threat monster and should give the Vikings balance, but lurking in the wings is speedy Ty Chandler, who dwarfed departed Alexander Mattison in yards-per-rush with 4.5 to 3.9.  When both are healthy, expect Jones to handle the lion’s share, but Chandler is definitely a sexy handcuff.

    Writer’s Season Win Prediction: 6-11

    The Vikings have built their bones on the passing game over the last couple of seasons, but with Cousins leaving for Atlanta, the production from the QB now has more questions than answers.  The carousel at QB last season still manage to provide top-five numbers for passing attempts, passing yards and passing TDs which is no small feat considering there were four different players under center throughout the season.  Rookie JJ MacCarthy might not be the prototypical gunslinger, but he’s coming in with a 27-1 college record and won’t be asked to carry anyone’s water on the offensive side of the ball.  The Vikings smartly brought in Sam Darnold to either back him up or keep the position warm while MacCarthy gets his sea legs under him from the sideline.  If Jones has something left in the tank and Hockenson can return sooner rather than later from his December ACL tear, the Vikings boast a complete offense capable of making big plays and scoring from all over the field.

    Everything starts with Jefferson and it’s worth asking if his singular greatness simply propped up Cousins over the last couple of seasons.  The quicker MacCarthy learns to throw it in his direction, the quicker the learner curve will be.  When it comes to fantasy, it’s hard not to knock Jefferson slightly as it takes two to tango in the NFL.  As ready-made to make the leap into the NFL as MacCarthy might be, it’s going to be a stretch that he matches the 4400 yards that Cousins aired out two seasons ago.  Tyreek Hill has Tua Tagovailoa who led the league in passing yards, Ja’Marr Chase has Joe Burrow and even CeeDee Lamb has Dak Prescott who racked up over 4500 passing yards last season.  No one doubts the greatness of Jefferson, but if you are going to spend a top-five fantasy pick on Jefferson, you have to be confident it’s not going to be a Larry Fitzgerald situation in Arizona.

    Jefferson is the kind of talent that makes everyone better simply by attracting the teeth of the defense, so it’s really Addison who is going to be the big winner this season.  Addison scored more fantasy points than DeAndre Hopkins and DeVonta Smith and should take the leap as many WRs do in his sophomore season.  Consistency will be his biggest issue as he only scored over five points (23.1 in Week 15) once in a six week straight late in the season.  It’s a win-win situation for Addison as he gets the optimal coverage playing next to Jefferson or if Jefferson goes down again, he gets hyper-targeted as the now defacto WR1 on the team.

    The biggest question mark on the roster outside of QB is when Hockenson is going to able to return.  We have seen players adopt aggressive timelines from major injuries, but it still takes them several games at the very least to get back up to speed.  Assuming Hockenson is ready close to the start of the season, fantasy GMs are going to want to treat him with kid gloves and treat him more of a stash that could pay off in the backend of the season.  There’s no denying that Hock was a fantasy monster as he scored the fourth most fantasy points and didn’t play the last two games of the season.  He will be an ideal safety blanket for MacCarthy as Jefferson stretches the field and the uncertainly around his health will certainly depress his ADP.


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