Believe it or not, but the Vikings are one of the teams with the most fantasy buzz swirling around them this offseason. With the departure of Leslie Frazier and Bill Musgrave who have been replaced by Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner, there’s a lot to like about Minnesota being a team that rebounds quickly in 2014.
2014 Vikings Schedule
|1||@||St. Louis Rams|
|2||New England Patriots|
|3||@||New Orleans Saints|
|5||@||Green Bay Packers|
|8||@||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|12||Green Bay Packers|
|14||New York Jets|
It’s easy to forget that this was a club that was in the postseason the previous year, so there are still holdovers who can play and a lot of fresh faces that can contribute. Even last season, this was a team that was explosive in spurts and it showed as they were in the top half of the league in several efficiency metrics despite being 23rd in offensive snaps.
Now the Vikings will be led by the tutelage of Turner, who has been around an offense or two. Check out the splits for offenses under his watch for his career thus far.
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That’s a solid resume to formulate opinions on and you can see that his offenses are fairly balanced when things are going well. Under Zimmer’s care, the Vikings defense should get back into formidable shape sooner than later, making the pass happy seasons that Turner had in Oakland and last year in Cleveland seem like an afterthought. Even so, it’s an important lesson to remember when teams turn into a pile of rubble in season and how splits can get destroyed in the blink of an eye.
Fantasy’s Shiny New Toy
So far this offseason, Cordarrelle Patterson has been quite the polarizing fantasy football figure. Just about each of us has penned at least one piece with Patterson’s potential as the focal point. In 2013, he had more yards after the catch (YAC) than Brandon Marshall, Mike Wallace, Michael Floyd and Cecil Shorts despite catching at least 20 fewer passes than all of them. He tacked on 158 rushing yards for good measure and finished with seven total offensive touchdowns on the season on just 446 snaps. His 63.7 snaps per touchdown ranked second in the league for all receivers in 2013.
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That’s pretty good company considering the types of touches he was getting. His average depth of target (aDOT) was criminally low in regards to what we will typically see from a Norv Turner lead receiver, but there’s no reason to force him into a hole that he may not even fit. One of the hardest (and most polarizing) things is projecting how he will be used in this offense, because truthfully we really don’t know. He carries one of the most scintillating ceilings in all of fantasy football with no real knowledge of how high it truly is or how low the floor may be because there’s nobody like him playing to make accurate comps to. He’s built like a lead receiver should be, but comes with added bonus of what puts fantasy owners into a tizzy on the ground and special teams, like much smaller players in Percy Harvin and Randall Cobb.
He still has a lot of polish to put into his game from the receiver aspect, so anticipating a clean journey to the mountaintop is going to be unlikely for those investing a fifth round or higher selection in him. C.D. Carter has a strong list of reasons to believe in him at that cost, though. I typically don’t pursue volatile options that early, but if you want a definitive case to be made from his breakout, check out this piece from Shawn Siegele and what Patterson himself accomplished over the seasons final seven weeks courtesy of the Games Split App available at RotoViz.
His teammate, Greg Jennings is flying somewhat under the radar and is an early target for those seeking draft equity from the receiver position. At WR58 off of the board, he’s a solid add for any approach, even if you’re going to pursue Zero WR. The only rub is that Jennings is an obvious state of decline athletically, having his explosive ability nearly entirely sapped from his repertoire. Since 2011, he has just nine receptions of 30 yards or more. That total is the same as Greg Olsen and fewer than Jeremy Kerley and Harry Douglas. While his game is suited for either potential quarterback, he may not be a fantasy week tilting receiver, making him somewhat of a trap. Here’s his production since 2010 and see for yourself why he’s likely to be just a PPR roster smoother this season.
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If Patterson can’t make the necessary strides to be that vertical target we’ve been familiar with from Turner’s offenses, that leaves a late round dart throw on Jarius Wright open for business. Believe it or not, Jerome Simpson actually had 100 targets last season. He did absolutely nothing with them, however, so don’t be excited. On the other hand, Wright is a vertical playmaker, averaging 15.5 yards per reception through his first two seasons with three of his five touchdowns coming from outside of the red zone. His overall production will likely be inconsistent, but he’s a name not to lose track of this offseason.
The other beneficiary from the hire of Turner is Kyle Rudolph. JJ Zachariason has painted a nice picture of what Turner has done for tight ends in the past for fantasy that you should look into. Rudolph isn’t in the mold of athletes that have typically thrived under Turner, so his production outside of the red zone could be limited with all of the other skill players Minnesota has. He has only two catches over 30 yards in his career, so it’s hard to envision him as the next Antonio Gates.
His prowess in the red zone is what I care about though, because he’s an easy bet to lead this team in receiving touchdowns for 2014. So far throughout his three seasons, Rudolph has scored 15 times on 109 receptions, converting a massive 46 percent of his red zone targets (13 of 28) for scores. Even if the yardage doesn’t come your way, Rudolph is a great buy to be your starting tight end.
You Can’t Kill Adrian Peterson
Norval’s true impact comes from the fact that he’s a PPR running back savant for fantasy football and now he’s going to be attached the best running back in football. Peterson just turned 29 in March, but his resume is pretty unparalleled by anyone currently playing.
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Outside of his whimsical and dominating season of 2012, that’s an incredible level of consistency. The Vikings ran only 23 plays inside the opponent’s five-yard line in 2013, fewest in the NFL. Seven of those came versus Philadelphia, when Peterson was inactive. Knowing that, it’s no surprise that the eight carries he had inside the five were the lowest total of his career since his rookie season when he had only three such attempts. Despite that, he still scored double digit rushing touchdowns for the seventh consecutive season.
Of course, we already know that he’s been a tank, but can he get back near the 40 reception mark that he’s only reached twice in his career under Turner? Here’s how Turner offenses have distributed the ball out of the backfield so far.
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Peterson just isn’t the type of back that is going to out a command 70 targets, but he should get much closer to the mid-fifties. I anticipate some of these targets to also go to Patterson as he’s used in a creative fashion, but Peterson isn’t a back that is coming off of the field for a change of pace option. Even a below average fantasy points per route run (FPPRR) score can be overcome with volume, which has kept Peterson’s head above water thus far instead of dragging him under.
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The concern for Peterson in whether he’s priced accordingly stems from the fact that he’s amassed over 2,200 career touches and has missed multiple games now in two of the past three seasons. If that happens again, be quick to snatch up rookie runner Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon was a darling of mine and others during the draft process, who has nearly one of a kind measurables. A converted college quarterback to tailback, he is just another layer of dynamic play maker that the Vikings have at their disposal. As mentioned above, Peterson just simply doesn’t come off of the field, so McKinnon will be relegated to spot usage. Matt Asiata would still likely be the backup if Peterson goes down, but McKinnon has more upside in a Turner offense and could dispatch him quickly if that occurs.
Teddy or Cassel, Does it Even Matter?
For fantasy purposes, everyone above is going to likely have similar output regardless of who starts at quarterback out of the gates. The Vikings traded back into the first round to select Bridgewater, leaving the door open for a fifth year option. At this point, we already know that Cassel is now a NFL backup and everyone in the situation knows it as well. There’s a good reason to believe that with a solid camp and preseason, Bridgewater takes the reigns right away since the Vikings will be a run first team and he’ll be under the care of Turner.
I expect Bridgewater to be just fine as well. His completion percentage, adjusted yard sper attempt (AY/A) and TD/INT ratio rose all three seasons at Louisville and his 7.8 TD/INT ratio was the second best total for any prospect in his final year that was 21 or younger (Alex Smith was first). His accuracy did take a dip on throws downfield, but compared to everyone in this class, his accuracy blows the rest away on nearly every level of throw. Only 16 quarterbacks have scored 150 fantasy points in there rookie seasons since 2000, but nine of those have come in the past three seasons.
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There will surely be some peaks and valleys, but there’s no reason not to believe that Bridgewater can’t be a serviceable streamer with the weapons the Vikings have and his own ability. The same can be said for Cassel if he begins the season as the starter. looking at the Vikings opening month, I’m projecting Bridgewater to make his first start in week six at home, but keep a tab on the position battle and check back in throughout the summer if the news definitively sways in favor of Bridgewater beginning the season as the starter.
2014 Fantasy Relevant Projections
Best Option to Crash through their projection without injury: Patterson – Admittedly, projecting him has a ton of gray and is more of an educated guess because his true usage is relatively unknown. If he taps into his ceiling in season two, he can win weeks for your team.
Biggest Risk to fall through their projection: Peterson – it’s a tired narrative for sure, but eventually father time wins in the end of NFL careers. Is this the end? I’ll say not yet, but the rope is getting tighter because the price never changes.
Best Waiver Wire Option: Wright – if Jennings officially hits the wall or Patterson’s growth stunts at all, there’s an opening for the third year receiver to be this team’s home run hitter over the top.
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