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2019 Team Report: Minnesota Vikings

Offensive Philosophy

When the Vikings fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo after week 14 last year, they promoted Kevan Stefanski to replace him on an interim basis. They were happy enough with their results over the final three weeks to remove the interim tag from Stefanski this offseason. The changes he made to the offense upon taking over were both sudden and dramatic; over the first 13 games, the Vikings ranked 3rd in pass attempts and 31st in rush attempts, throwing the ball 1.9 times for every rush. Over the final three games, they were one of just nine teams to rush more times than they passed. The impact on Minnesota's skill players was equally dramatic. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen each averaged fewer than half as many yards under Stefanski as DeFilippo. (Thielen received at least 7 targets in each of the first thirteen games and no more than 6 targets in each of the last three.) On the other hand, Dalvin Cook's carries per game rose by nearly 50%. During the offseason nearly every coach says he wants to run the ball more, but once the season starts most of those promises are abandoned. Stefanski is one of the few men with a history credibly suggesting he means it.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Kirk Cousins
Backup(s): Sean Mannion, Kyle Sloter, Jake Browning

Starting QB: Kirk Cousins has been a top 10 fantasy quarterback in each of the last four seasons as he has finished 9th, 5th, 5th, and 9th. He is coming off a season where he threw for 30 touchdowns which is the most in his career to date and is surrounded by a talented core of players in Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs. Now entering his second season in the Vikings offense and his three-year, $84 million contract, Cousins has a lot to still prove especially coming off a year where hopes were high for the Vikings but they bowed out of the playoffs in Week 17. Cousins has thrown over 4093 yards and at least 25 touchdowns in each of his last four seasons. He also has a total of 14 rushing touchdowns over that stretch but only one of those was scored in 2018. The team switched to a run heavy approach late last year and kept Kevin Stefanski as offensive coordinator in a sign that they don't intend to change greatly. Cousins numbers should decline this year, the only question is how far.

Backup QB: Sean Mannion will take over backup duties for Kirk Cousins this season as he signed a one-year, $900,000 deal. Mannion is familiar with the backup role as he was Jared Goff's backup each of the past three seasons. Mannion's only start was back in 2017 Week 17, where the threw for 169 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions.

Running Backs

Starter: Dalvin Cook
Backup(s): Alexander Mattison [R], Mike Boone, Roc Thomas, Ameer Abdullah
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: With Latavius Murray now out of town the Vikings who were once a running back by committee type of team are all of a sudden a lead back type of team. Dalvin Cook looks to benefit the most in Minnesota this season. Cook missed five games in 2018 after missing 12 the year before with a torn ACL. Through the 11 games he did play in he averaged 4.6 yards per carry with 615 and a pair of touchdowns on the ground. He also contributed in the passing game with 40 receptions for 305 yards and two more touchdowns. In his short career, he has looked explosive while on the field and if he can stay healthy for a full season the entire Vikings offense could improve in both the rushing and passing games, with an emphasis on the run under Kevin Stefanski.

Backup RBs: There are currently a lot of names behind Cook on the depth chart with fourth-round pick Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Roc Thomas, and Ameer Abdullah but not one truly stands out above the rest. Three of these backs had limited game action in 2018 with both Cook and Murray handling the running back duties for the Vikings, and while Boone had his moments, the team decided to spend a fourth-round pick on Mattison, who is a strong runner with no real weakness to his game. He could, even should win the backup job behind a starter who has missed significant time the last two years.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs
Backups: Laquon Treadwell, Chad Beebe, Jordan Taylor, Brandon Zylstra, Dillon Mitchell [R], Olabisi Johnson, Jeff Badet

Starting WRs: The duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs might just be the best wide receiver duo in the league. Thielen finished 2018 as WR8 and Diggs as WR15. Thielen was targeted 155 times for 113/1373/9 stat line while Diggs saw 148 targets for a 102/1021/9 line. That is a total of 303 targets for the duo 215 receptions, 2,394 yards, and 18 touchdowns. This type of production is what should make Kirk Cousins look so appealing entering the season, but the team went heavy on the run late last year, so there are concerns about their ability to reproduce 2018 numbers. If the Vikings can also get a healthy Dalvin Cook at running back the big plays for Thielen and Diggs could continue to be there. No matter how big or small, the whole passing offense will remain centered around the duo.

Backup WRs: The depth behind Thielen and Diggs is rather weak this year as the third option remains Laquon Treadwell. Treadwell was a highly sought after 1st round pick in 2016 and since being drafted he has played in 40 games and has caught a single touchdown pass. He put up his most productive numbers last year with 35 catches for 302 yards and a touchdown. The team declined to pick up his fifth year option, so it's important to watch who among the young players behind him emerge as potential depth for the future. Mitchell was a late round

Tight Ends

Starters: Kyle Rudolph
Backups: Tyler Conklin, Irv Smith [R], David Morgan, Cole Hikutini

Kyle Rudolph is now entering his ninth year in the league and continues to be a strong tight end in the league. He is coming off four straight 16 game seasons where he finished as TE13, 3, 7, and 9. The numbers aren't always flashy for Rudolph but they do remain consistent and he is the third passing threat in this offense behind Theilen and Diggs. Another top 10 type of production at the tight end position is likely in store for Rudolph and his four touchdowns in 2018 was his lowest since 2014 so he could look for a rebound in that category this season. Rudolph could be traded this offseason, but hasn't been dealt yet. If that happens, Both Tyler Conklin and David Morgan are valuable contributors for the Vikings as well but that doesn't always translate to the score sheet. Conklin looks like the guy who has the talent to be the better fantasy commodity behind Rudolph as he is an acrobatic pass catcher and has the blocking skills that are needed at the position as well. Rookie second-round pick Irv Smith is a good two-way tight end and he could push for early playing time, especially if Rudolph is sent packing. Smith could even overtake Morgan, who is primarily a blocker, and Conklin who was only a fifth-round pick last year. In any event, this probably won't be a fantasy rich spot with the Vikings showing a heavy run lean last year.

Place Kicker

Dan Bailey: The Vikings went into 2018 with the thought that their unstable kicker situation would be solved by fifth round pick Daniel Carlson. The rookie beat out Kai Forbath in the preseason, but immediately imploded in the first two games and gave way to Dan Bailey, who was beat out by Brett Maher in the most shocking twist of the kicker chronicles last summer. Bailey didn't return to his outstanding historic level of accuracy, only making 75% of his field goal attempts, but he was adequate. Six of his seven misses in 28 attempts were from 40 or more yards, and Bailey only missed one extra point attempt. The Vikings deemed that good enough to merit a one year, $1 million dollar deal in free agency, which is very cheap for a kicker, but that also means he doesn't have a lot of job security. Stay tuned to see if the kicker tragedy in Minnesota continues and avoid Bailey in drafts.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Mike Hughes, Ameer Abdullah

In 2018, the Vikings hoped that their first round pick, cornerback Mike Hughes, would be able to make as big of an impact on special teams as he did on defense. An early ACL tear cut those hopes short, but Hughes returns in 2019 ready to compete with Ameer Abdullah, who returned kickoffs in his absence.

Punt Returners: Mike Hughes, Brandon Zylstra

For the last eight years, the Vikings have been blessed with one of the most stable return situations in recent league history as Marcus Sherels handled an unheard-of 231 out of the team's 250 punt returns. The downside to such stability is the vacuum that's left behind when the player moves on. With Sherels in New Orleans in 2019, the team hopes last year's top rookie choice Mike Hughes or last year's top backup Brandon Zylstra will be up to the task of taking over for an institution.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Riley Reiff, Garrett Bradbury [R], Pat Elflein, Josh Kline, Brian O'Neill
Key Backups: Rashod Hill, Danny Isidora, Dakota Dozier, Brett Jones

The team found two good young players recently in center Pat Elflein and right tackle Brian O'Neill. Left tackle Riley Reiff has been a good player but there has been talk of moving him inside as his career continues. This unit lost several players to free agency and brought Josh Kline in to start at right guard. The coaches will likely give the left guard job to first round rookie Garrett Bradbury from NC State. Bradbury was a natural center and they could flip Elflein out of that spot depending on how the offense looks in preseason with each player at center. Depth names include Danny Isidora, Dakota Dozier and Brett Jones. Rashod Hill signed his RFA tender and could see snaps at several spots. Overall this is a low-tier line due to change at both guard spots. But this line should rise in the rankings once the lineup takes shape.

Team Defense

The Vikings team defense was highly regarded in fantasy drafts last year, but didn't live up to the billing after a strong Week 1 against Jimmy Garoppolo to open the season. They did have a strong mid-season stretch against shoddy quarterback play and also had a few sack sprees to punctuate high points, but the addition of Sheldon Richardson didn't unlock hidden potential in the already good defense. The Vikings do have strong personnel just about everywhere in the defense and they've kept the defense almost completely intact this offseason, with only Richardson departing among players of note. They're still being drafted in a lot of leagues, but a season opener against the Falcons followed by a trip to Green Bay makes them a tough sell in early season lineups.

Defensive Line

Starters: LDE Danielle Hunter, RDE Everson Griffen, DT Shamar Stephen, NT Linval Joseph
Backups: DE Stephen Weatherly, DE Tashawn Bower, DT Jayln Holmes, NT Jaleel Johnson

Starting DL: The transformation from raw prospect to top-end talent for Danielle Hunter has been fun to watch. After being signed to a long-term deal, he had his highest sack total of his career last season with 14.5, in spite of running mate Everson Griffen missing significant time with a mental health issue. After leaving to spend several years with the Seahawks, Shamar Stephen has returned to the Vikings to fill the role vacated by Sheldon Richardson. He is a competent run stuffer in his own right and should pair nicely next to long-time interior disruptor Linval Joseph. This unit should once again be an impactful group that produces quarterback pressure.

Backup DL: The Vikings continue to cultivate talent behind their starting group. Former fourth-rounders Jaleel Johnson and Jaylen Holmes continue to be coached up. Given the coaching staff success with talent development, they figure to be ready to go if pressed into a bigger opportunity this season. Stephen Weatherly saw significant work while Everson Griffen was out last year and showed well during that span. Tashawn Bower also received a few snaps last year between battling injury. He is recovering from an apparent foot or ankle ailment and was seen in a walking boot on his left foot during an offseason program appearance.

Linebackers

Starters: SLB Anthony Barr, MLB Eric Kendricks, WLB Ben Gedeon
Backups: SLB Devante Downs, WLB Kentrell Brothers, WLB Cameron Smith [R], MLB Eric Wilson

Starting LBs: After flirting with the New York Jets in free agency, Anthony Barr changed his mind and returned to the Vikings. Ryan Williams, Barr's agent, said of Barr's decision, "It became clear that he wasn't settled with where we were headed. He felt like the right thing was that he should go to New York. But deep down the right thing for him and ultimately what he cared about was to stay in Minnesota." When Eric Kendricks learned his friend and former college teammate was staying, he was ecstatic. "Yeah, he's with us," said Kendricks. "It's dope. So dope." Kendricks has been productive when playing with Barr both in college and in the NFL, and keeping that continuity will in theory lead to another Pro Bowl season for Kendricks. Ben Gedeon started for his first season last year and came away with a career-high 53 combined tackles. In this scheme and with the stout line ahead of them, Kendricks is the only linebacker one should expect of the group to eclipse the 100 combined tackle mark every season.

Backup LBs: This unit returns the primary backups that were in place last season. Eric Wilson was given a chance to start late in the year against the Lions and made a favorable impression with three tackles for loss and a sack. Kentrell Brothers is in his contract year and his eventual replacement could be Cameron Smith, who was drafted this year. Smith projects to be a two-down thumper who excels at stopping the run. Last year was essentially a redshirt year for Devante Downs. He will return from a knee injury suffered in college to add to the camp competition.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Trae Waynes, CB Xavier Rhodes, SS Anthony Harris, FS Harrison Smith
Backups: CB Mike Hughes, CB Mackensie Alexander, SS Jayron Kearse, FS Derron Smith

Starting DBs: Both the starting unit and backup unit remain largely the same, showing the continuity that this team has been able to maintain on what has long been a top defensive unit in the NFL. Though trade rumors did abound for the cap-strapped Vikings during the draft regarding Trae Waynes, the Vikings elected to hold on to their starting tandem of Waynes and Xavier Rhodes. After letting Andrew Sendejo walk in free agency, the team will promote Anthony Harris to starting responsibility. They gave him a second-round tender in restricted free agency, signaling the faith the coaching staff has that he is ready. Harrison Smith continues to play at a high level despite being 30 years of age. He was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl last year.

Backup DBs: The competition between Mike Hughes and Mackensie Alexander for slot duties should be interesting to watch. Both showed the propensity to be competent slot options before injuries struck. Jayron Kearse is best known for being the nephew of Titans pass rushing great Javon Kearse. The Vikings are mulling over converting him to a linebacker role, but have left him at defensive back for the time being. The Vikings liked what they saw out of Derron Smith in the Alliance of American Football. Smith had something of a breakout in his time there, making him yet another developmental project the Vikings might be able to turn into a starter with time.

Last modified: 2019-05-22 16:46:41