As the mercury rises and we inch closer to training camp openings, our resident fantasy football aficionados, Brad Evans and Derek Brown, profile their favorite Booms, Busts, Breakouts and Bets for every NFL team. Giddy up, gamers. Today’s topic: Skol, Skol, Skol!
Cook is the shifty, tackle-breaking engine that makes the Minnesota offense hum. Cook put the Vikings on his back last year on his way to finishing as the RB3 in fantasy points per game. He’s in the prime of his career and read to handle the load again in 2021.
Last year his efficiency was still at its peak. Cook ranked sixth in breakaway runs (6), second in evaded tackles (106), and fifth in yards created per touch (1.85). Minnesota's offensive line finished first in adjusted line yards and third in second-level yards last year, and the scary thing is they improved in the offseason. Adding Christian Darrisaw in the draft will only strengthen one of the league's best run-blocking front five. Cook should be the second back off the board in every draft throughout the summer. — Derek Brown
If you, as a general rule, believe in sophomore slumps, I have a pallet of elixirs capable of curing baldness, impotence and excessive flatulence for sale. After a radiant rookie season, a campaign in which the young wideout rewrote numerous franchise records and tallied the third-most valuable line by a first-year WR ever, Jefferson may see a slight decline in production, but buying a precipitous dropoff is a fool’s errand. His expanded route tree, ability to win in contested situations and field-stretch dynamism point to continued success. Last year he finished inside the position’s top-10 in multiple important categories, including air yards share, yards per target (11.2), yards per route run (2.65) and total yards after catch (450).
Overall, Jefferson’s chemistry with Kirk Cousins and continuity across the board present a very high floor. A top-10 WR lock in drafts (24.48 ADP, WR7), he’s an ideal building block for those who choose to go RB in RD1. Imagine for a second a Christian McCaffrey plus Jefferson pairing. Erotic. — Brad Evans
Thielen has been in Minnesota so long he may have once caught passes from Fran Tarkenton. His consistent box score blastings were only derailed by a plaguing hamstring injury a couple seasons back. His red-zone resurgence last year — he led all WRs in red-zone target percentage — masked otherwise concerning declines in several areas. No longer the alpha, can you honestly trust an aging wide receiver who ranked outside the position's top-35 in catch rate (68.5%), contested catch rate, yards per target (8.6) and average target separation?
Yes, his sticker price doesn’t jolt the system (WR20, 47.12 ADP). However, touchdown variance at wide receiver is ever-present. Given his noticeable erosion, banking on another double-digit TD season isn’t worth the risk. D.J. Moore, Diontae Johnson and Cooper Kupp are preferred options available around the same time in 12-team drafts. — Brad Evans
Thielen is drawing closer to the age apex as we speak. There are some cracks in the pavement for a player that's now being drafted inside the top 20 wide receivers. Last year, Thielen's peripheral efficiency metrics declined from his 2019 levels. In 2020, his yards per route run dipped from 2.13 to 1.85 (38th) and his yards per target nudged down from 8.7 to 8.6 (44th). This is not the trend line you want to see for any player, much less one you're drafting inside the top 50 picks.
Thielen's WR11 finish in fantasy points per game was fueled by touchdown proficiency that will be hard to match this year. Among all players with 11 or more red-zone targets, Thielen converted his volume into touchdowns at the highest rate in the NFL. That's a tough act to follow for any receiver. Tyler Lockett, Cooper Kupp and Tee Higgins are all within five picks in ADP and are safer bets in fantasy football drafts. — Derek Brown
Sound the trumpets. Strike up the band. All of the proponents of #LetIrvSwerve, this is your year. The breakout is upon us, and it will be glorious. Don't let the mutterings of Mike Zimmer shake your faith. What if I told you Zimmer's statement that "Irv Smith's role won't grow in 2021" is not the coffin nail it's being portrayed as.
Last year during Kyle Rudolph's absence, after Smith shook off an injury, he closed the season playing 82%, 88% and 79% of the snaps in the final three weeks. In Weeks 15-17, he was fifth in routes run among all tight ends and tied for 11th in targets (16). Draft Smith with confidence and enjoy watching the breakout season unfold. — Derek Brown
A 100-year old oak tree inside the red zone, Smith is a Grade A prime breakthrough candidate this fall. On a team sorely lacking a legitimate third option and with Kyle Rudolph out of the picture, he’s in a prime spot to greatly increase his 43 targets seen (3.3 per game) over 13 contests last year. Luring a dozen looks inside the red zone a season ago, he grabbed five TDs in a limited role. Given his assumed ratched presence and the attention the trio of Jefferson/Thielen/Cook draws, he’s a likely candidate to land in the 7-9 TD range. Recall on just 11.6% of the target share in 2020, he finished No. 2 in fantasy points per target and QB passer rating when targeted among all tight ends.
Admittedly, I’m banging the drum hard for Big Irv. The nearly unobstructed opportunity path and his overall skill set explain why so lovable after the top-10 tight ends fall off the board. Triple star his name on your cheat sheet. In the middle rounds, he’s a friggin’ steal (TE13, 120.5 ADP). — Brad Evans
Best Bets for the Vikings 2021
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Cook finished second in the NFL last year in rushing yards in only 14 games played. A full season for Cook behind an improved offensive line and with more positive gamescripts to salt the clock, this is within reach. — Derek Brown
The Vikes could conquer all fjords this fall if a certain someone in Green Bay goes elsewhere. With a middle-of-the-pack strength of schedule, cohesion on offense and optimism on defense, it’s conceivable Captain Kirk and Co. take the division. — Brad Evans
Derek has written for Fantasy Data, 4for4, Player Profiler, and as a co-author of the best selling Fantasy Football Black Book Series. His DFS, redraft, and dynasty takes have been projected to the masses with recurring guest roles on Sirius XM and DK Sweat. Born in Louisiana, he is a diehard Saints fan (Whodat). Derek now resides in Fort Worth, Texas, with his beautiful, football-loving wife and three kids.