This series provides a brief overview of the each NFL team’s 2018 season, and the state of their skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards the upcoming campaign and possibly beyond. I will be reviewing each team in the reverse order of the final 2018 standings. Next up…Minnesota.
Minnesota Vikings (8-8)
After enduring a quarterback carousel spanning several seasons (which included Christian Ponder, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, and Case Keenum), Minnesota decided to lock down prized 2018 free agent Kirk Cousins by making him the third-highest paid NFL quarterback on an average annual basis at that time (a figure that drops to fifth following the recent extensions signed by Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson). While Cousins’ inaugural season with the Vikings wasn’t exactly a smashing success from a real-life perspective (no playoffs), he did prove useful for fantasy owners, finishing as the overall QB11, which included career single-season highs in touchdown passes (30) and completion percentage (70.1). Cousins didn’t exactly do anything to dispel the notion that he crumbles at inopportune times (see Week 14 at Seattle or Week 17 at Chicago), though his armament of offensive weapons that includes one of the most talented wideout duos in the NFL keeps him in play as a viable starter most weeks, and capable of popping for the occasional blow-up game.
Dalvin Cook’s return from a 2017 season-ending ACL tear was less than triumphant, as he only lasted two games before suffering what at the time were labelled by the team as”cramps”. It was later revealed that Cook had endured a hamstring strain, forcing him to sit out five of the Vikings’ next six contests. Upon returning for good in Week 9, Cook showed us glimpses of the player fantasy managers fell in love with as a rookie, putting up 89.4 total yards per game and scoring four times over the Vikings’ final eight contests (though by that point it was likely too little too late considering the regular season for most fantasy leagues was already about 2/3 over). During Cook’s stint on the sidelines, it was once again up to Latavius Murray to lead the Vikings’s rushing attack, this time without Jerick McKinnon around to share touches, to which Murray responded with 78 total yards per game and five touchdowns over six starts. It may not look that way based on the numbers, but Murray’s run as the Vikings’ top backfield was largely underwhelming absent the touchdowns, as his stats during Cook’s absence were inflated based off a 155 rushing yard performance in Week 6 versus Arizona (Murray actually failed to clear 70 yards on the ground in any other 2018 contest). Having previously restructured his contract to conclude at the end of 2018, Murray was plucked off the free agent marketplace by the New Orleans Saints, where he’ll replace Mark Ingram as their Alvin Kamara complement.
Heading into the Vikings’ 2019 season, Cook will be afforded another opportunity to operate as the team’s featured back, though his injury history cannot be overlooked. Cook has now missed 17 of a possible 32 games since entering the NFL two years ago, a fact the Vikings’ are keenly cognizant of considering they spent a third-round draft pick this past April on former Boise State Bronco Alexander Mattison, who figures to slot in as Cook’s primary backup given second-year guys Mike Boone and Roc Thomas didn’t show much of anything as rookies to deserve expanded roles. Mattison isn’t quite the burner that Cook is in the open field, but does possess solid vision, the ability to power through contact, and competency as a receiver (55 receptions as a two-year starter at the NCAA level). We at Fantasy Sharks are projecting Cook for about 1,500 total yards of offense (1,041 rushing/478 receiving) and 10 touchdowns this coming season, finishing as the RB10 in PPR formats (which puts him on the low-end side of the RB1 spectrum). With Cook a likely late-second/early-third round draft pick based on current ADP, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for fantasy managers to prioritize Mattison as a handcuff.