2022 Minnesota Vikings – Fantasy Football Deep Dive
The Minnesota Vikings have decided to finally end the Mike Zimmer era after what can only be described as a mediocre 8-year tenure as their head coach. During his time in charge in Minnesota, Zimmer led the team to only three playoff berths and finished first in the division twice.
Kevin O’Connell is the new man in charge as they look to reverse their fortune. He follows a long line of recent hires who was both a former NFL quarterback and a protégé of an offensive guru and now Super Bowl champion, Sean McVay. The Los Angeles Rams’ coaching tree is quickly growing in success with other coordinators of his like Zac Taylor, Matt LaFleur, and Brandon Staley all proving good hires for their new teams over the past few years. The Vikings can only hope that O’Connell, who served as the Rams offensive coordinator in 2021, can repeat this success.
There is no better time for the Vikings to enter into a new era. The Green Bay Packers are headed into a giant question mark of a season, especially with the loss of Davante Adams, the Bears still are unsure of what they can expect from Justin Fields, and the Lions are the Lions. This all presents an interesting opportunity for the Vikings to be sneaky favorites to win their division if Kevin O’Connell can live up to the hype.
As stated before, O’Connell is coming off a Super Bowl-winning season as the Rams offensive coordinator so it stands to reason, will he bring a similar system to Minnesota? That system, boiled down to its most simple form, is the wide zone offense that focuses on the run and play-action.
Essentially, this offense utilizes the tight end as an extra blocker, while still doubling as a legitimate receiving threat. This opens up opportunities for the quarterback to read what the front seven is showing pre-snap and deciding if they’re going to utilize the passing game in the middle of the field (where Cooper Kupp absolutely thrived) or if the line can handle the running back kicking it to one of the sidelines where they have a lot of space they can work with.
This is a particularly interesting offense to bring to the Vikings as you have a receiver that can succeed in this offense in Justin Jefferson, a running back who can easily succeed in space in Dalvin Cook, and an experienced quarterback in Kirk Cousins who should be able to ID what the defense is giving him. Starting to see a theme here?
Who Stands to Benefit?
Kirk Cousins, QB
Cousins has been one of the most polarizing quarterbacks in the NFL, not just in fantasy but on the field as well. This is his final chance to prove he can lead the Vikings to success and he couldn’t ask for a better system to do it in. The Rams, and now Vikings system emphasizes quarterback intelligence over any other skill. Keep in mind, McVay took Jared Goff to the Super Bowl.
As is the case for most of his career, Cousins did surprisingly well last year. He finished 11th overall among quarterbacks in fantasy but with the weapons he still has around him combined with O’Connell’s system, it’s not outside the realm of possibility to see him as a top-8 quarterback who could be the best sleeper at the position.
Jared Goff’s best season under Sean McVay saw him throwing for 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and unquestionably Kirk Cousins is more talented so it’s fair to expect something similar, if not better, from him.
Adam Thielen, WR
As one of the bigger and more long-lasting recognizable names on this offense, picking Thielen may seem like a “No duh” pick. However, the long-tenured Viking finished as the 27th-ranked fantasy receiver last year in PPR leagues. His production was hampered by injuries, inconsistent quarterback play from Cousins, and frankly, just an inept offensive system overall.
Will Thielen fulfill the Cooper Kupp role that the Rams offense so clearly values? Probably not. But he is likely to fill an arguably just as valuable role: the Odell Beckham Jr. role. As stated previously, the wide zone offense creates space in the middle but that also forces defenses to choose to either cover the best receiver (Jefferson most likely) going through the middle or leave another talented receiver in a winnable one-on-one match-up on the outside. If they choose the latter, expect to see Thielen’s yards and reception numbers remain lower than expected but his touchdown numbers to skyrocket.
I think that Thielen will be among the best FLEX options going into next year given his touchdown dependency. However, it would shock me if Thielen finished with less than 10 touchdowns if O’Connell’s offense works as I predict it will. He’ll be a bigger red zone target given his skillset than Jefferson so if Thielen can catch a touchdown or two a week, expect a big comeback season for him.
Potential Break-Out Player
K.J. Osborn, WR
As stated before with Thielen, the Rams offensive style emphasizes spreading the ball out to as many receivers as possible. Imagine the Saints 2010’s offense in the modern-day and you’re basically on the right track. What that, unfortunately, means for fantasy managers is you can’t really depend on one receiver to consistently perform well outside of Jefferson.
With that said, expect Osborn to be a surprisingly hot waiver wire pickup early in the season. That is to say, if you’re not smart enough to draft him in the later rounds. Last season with the Rams, Van Jefferson had six games of 10+ points while Robert Woods had six games of 9+ points while he was healthy. While this may be maddeningly inconsistent for some, it proves that the third and/or fourth option in this system has the potential to go off any given week.
Given that Thielen will likely be their main red zone target and Jefferson will be their go-to man, that leaves Osborn, who also had a surprisingly good season last year, as the prime candidate to benefit from this system.
The Vikings Will Have 3 Top Ten Finishers
Whether it’s a combination of Cousins, Thielen, Jefferson, Cook, or even Osborn, there is no doubt in my mind that the Vikings will have a dynamic offense this season. The hiring of O’Connell sends a clear message that their window is nearly closed and they know that well. The defense is a clear question mark but if O’Connell can successfully implement his system with this experienced of an offense, expect at least three of these players to finish in the top-10 at their respective positions relatively easily.