2023 Team Preview: Minnesota Vikings
Free agency and the NFL Draft have come and gone. It’s time to fully embrace the 2023 offseason by breaking down the fantasy football aspirations of each and every team before draft season truly gets underway.
What follows is a fantasy-focused breakdown of the Minnesota Vikings, looking at key questions like:
- Could Kirk Cousins truly boom in year two under Kevin O’Connell?
- How high would Alexander Mattison rank if Dalvin Cook were gone?
- Does Justin Jefferson deserve to be the 1.01 pick in 2023?
Every fantasy-relevant player from the Vikings will be covered in the following paragraphs. Make sure to check out the Fantasy Life Team Preview Landing Page through the end of June for more all-encompassing fantasy football coverage.
Notable Offseason Moves
From the front office to the coaching staff to the roster, every NFL team will be different in 2023 compared to their respective 2022 version.
For the Vikings, head coach Kevin O’Connell is once again joined by offensive coordinator Wes Phillips for their second season together in Minnesota. However, defensive coordinator Ed Donatell was fired, so longtime Patriots defensive coach/ex-Dolphins head coach Brian Flores is the new man in charge of the defense.
Last year, the Vikings' offense ranked eighth in scoring and sixth in pass rate over expected (PROE) and moved at the fifth-fastest pace (29.47 seconds) in neutral situations. O’Connell and Phillips set their QB up for success, as play-action accounted for 29.2% of Cousins's total pass attempts, which was the fourth-highest mark among 39 qualifying QBs.
A pass-happy offense that moves at a fast pace while utilizing plenty of play action is great news for Cousins’s chances to once again have enough passing volume to enable more than just Jefferson to great heights in fantasy.
Additionally, Minnesota has made plenty of changes to their roster. The following QBs, RBs, WRs, and TEs have either joined or left the roster in some way, shape, or form this offseason:
- QB: None
- RB: None
- WR: Longtime Vikings WR Adam Thielen took his talents to the Panthers. The team mostly addressed the departure in the draft but did also sign former Rams WR Brandon Powell to a one-year, $1.2 million deal during free agency.
- TE: Former second-round pick Irv Smith signed with the Bengals in free agency. Minnesota signed block-first option Josh Oliver to a surprisingly steep three-year, $21 million contract.
The Vikings also added a trio of fantasy-relevant players in the draft, with USC WR Jordan Addison (1.23), BYU QB Jaren Hall (5.164) and UAB RB DeWayne McBride (7.222) all joining the squad.
Addison offers all sorts of fantasy-friendly upside and figures to take over Thielen's vacated role in three-WR sets from Day 1, while the other two offensive rookies probably won’t put up much production in 2023 if the history of draft capital tells us anything.
- Kirk Cousins (Ian’s QB16)
- Nick Mullens (QB55)
Cousins has consistently been good to really good during his five years with the Vikings. This is reflected by his typically above-average ranks in completion percentage over expected (CPOE) and EPA per dropback:
- 2022: +1.1% CPOE (12th), +0.06 EPA per dropback (19th)
- 2021: +1.3% (16th), +0.13 (11th)
- 2020: +4.5% (5th), +0.18 (11th)
- 2019: +4.3% (5th), +0.19 (8th)
- 2018: +2.6% (13th), 0 (31st)
Although Minnesota's offensive line ranked 13th last year per Pro Football Focus (PFF), which was the best it's been since Cousins joined the Vikings, he posted five-year lows in completion rate, yards per attempt, and QBR in 2022 in his first season in O’Connell’s offensive scheme.
That said, it's fair to assume that Cousins could improve upon these metrics in Year 2 with more experience with the scheme. And yet, there simply isn’t all that much evidence out there that says Cousins is capable of truly booming in fantasy land.
- 2022: 17.2 (QB12)
- 2021: 18.8 (QB12)
- 2020: 19.1 (QB12)
- 2019: 16.3 (QB18)
- 2018: 17.6 (QB16)
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) attempts a pass as Washington Commanders defensive end Montez Sweat (90) rushes during the first half at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
There’s nothing wrong with finishing as the fantasy QB12 in three straight years! It's just tough to see a scenario where the soon-to-be 35-year-old veteran ascends to top-five fantasy heights. Credit to Cousins for saving all three of his top-five finishes for Weeks 14 to 16 last season, but he's still not a QB that fantasy GMs can expect to be a true week winner or league winner.
Ultimately, Cousins comes in as my QB16, which is in the same tier as guys like Geno Smith, Aaron Rodgers, Jared Goff, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr, Matthew Stafford, and Jimmy Garoppolo. I’m happy to draft Cousins at ADP if I've already drafted Jefferson, Addison, or T.J. Hockenson earlier in the draft and wouldn’t fight anyone who wants to place him at the top of this big tier.
However, I usually prefer a first-or-last strategy when it comes to QBs in fantasy, which means that I'd rather either pay up for a true difference-making dual-threat QB or just wait to grab the last of the last pocket passer types in this extensive tier.
- Dalvin Cook (Ian’s RB13)
- Alexander Mattison (RB42)
- DeWayne McBride (RB71)
It remains unclear as to whether Cook will be a member of the Vikings come Week 1. Minnesota re-signed Alexander Mattison to a two-year, $7 million contract with $6.35 million fully guaranteed earlier this offseason, and the Vikings are currently in the red and need to free up effective cap space.
Minnesota could free up between $9 to $11 million in cap savings with a post-June 1 release or trade of Cook. It's also an ominous sign that the Vikings' Twitter banner now features Mattison instead of Cook. Lol maybe we're all reading too much into a photo on social media, but you have to admit that it’s kind of weird!
The latest report from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler didn’t make it sound like a trade is imminent, which brings into question why the Vikings wouldn’t just release Cook now if they plan on doing so. Note that teams can simply designate a player as a post-June 1 cut without waiting until that date, with the Cowboys having released Ezekiel Elliott back in March with a post-June 1 designation as an example.
Ultimately, my current RB13 ranking for Cook reflects where he would be if the Vikings do not move on from his services and end up keeping him.
Cook was the RB14 in PPR points per game (PPG) last season and has proven capable of reaching far greater heights during his six years in Minnesota. He’ll once again be a borderline RB1 if he were to remain a Viking, although there certainly seems to be a good amount of smoke to suggest the contrary will happen.
And if Mattison emerges as the new starting RB? Look out, because he’s put up some big-time fantasy numbers in his limited spot starts over the years.
- Week 6, 2020: 10-26-0 rushing, 1-4-0 receiving, PPR RB47
- Week 17, 2020: 21-95-1, 3-50-1, RB4
- Week 3, 2021: 26-112-0, 6-59-0, RB7
- Week 5, 2021: 25-113-0, 7-40-1, RB6
- Week 13, 2021: 22-90-1, 3-34-0, RB8
- Week 16, 2021: 13-41-1, 3-29-0, RB13
You can take shots on Mattison before a potential ADP spike and draft him on Underdog Fantasy, where you can also get a 100% deposit match of up to $100. Sign up below and start drafting today!
One concern is that a lot of those big performances required heavy volume for Mattison from a coaching staff that is now gone. Still, only adding a seventh-round rookie in McBride to the equation in terms of competition adds credence to the idea that the newly-extended Mattison could be featured to a heavy extent if Cook were to exit the picture.
While last year’s average of 3.8 yards per carry wasn’t exactly good, Mattison did grade out as PFF’s 12th-best rusher among 59 qualifying RBs. I’m a believer in the longtime hurdle master being good enough at football to make the most out of a featured workload.
This Vikings backfield ranked just 22nd in expected PPR PPG last season in large part due to O'Connell taking a page out of former mentor Sean McVay’s playbook and not featuring the RBs in the passing game. The Rams and Vikings ranked 32nd and 27th, respectively, in targets to RBs last year.
While it’s possible, and perhaps even likely, that Mattison will take over a majority of the early-down work if Cook were gone, it’s far less clear whether Mattison would also dominate pass-down work or whether the Vikings would plan on throwing the ball to their RBs any more than they did last season.
This would put Mattison in the low-end RB2 range alongside guys like Miles Sanders, Cam Akers, James Conner, Dameon Pierce, and David Montgomery, all of whom also have pass-down/overall usage concerns.
- Justin Jefferson (Ian’s WR1)
- Jordan Addison (WR38)
- K.J. Osborn (WR71)
- Jalen Reagor (WR120)
Jefferson’s first three seasons in the NFL have been pretty, pretty special. In fact, his production through three years is arguably the best in WR history:
- Receptions: 324 (No. 1)
- Receiving yards: 4,825 (No. 1)
- Receiving touchdowns: 25 (tied for No. 25)
- PPR points: 973.3 (No. 1)
- PPR PPG: 19.5 (No. 3)
The NFL’s reigning king in total receptions (128) and receiving yards (1,809), Jefferson has the requisite combination of high-end volume and elite talent to stand tall as the overall No. 1 fantasy WR entering the 2023 season. Seriously, how is any mere mortal supposed to guard this guy?
Jefferson gets the nod over fellow top-five WRs Ja’Marr Chase and Tyreek Hill due to less target competition, and he's ranked over Cooper Kupp and Stefon Diggs because of the potential age cliffs at hand for those veterans.
Behind Jefferson, there's the first-round rookie WR Addison, who has steadily received plenty of offseason buzz after the Vikings selected him with the 23rd overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
One of the main reasons why Addison received so much pre-draft hype was due to his ability to command targets at a high level in multiple collegiate environments.
The 2021 Biletnikoff winner should benefit mightily from playing across from Jefferson, as Addison’s tentative status as the offense’s primary slot WR will help the slender talent (5’11, 173 lbs.) deal with less press coverage and serve as a lethal zone-beater.
Faith in Addison also requires faith in Cousins, who has done nothing but enable high-end WR production in fantasy since he joined the Vikings in 2018:
- 2022: Jefferson (WR2); Thielen (WR43)
- 2021: Jefferson (WR4); Thielen (WR14)
- 2020: Jefferson (WR9); Thielen (WR11)
- 2019: Diggs (WR25); Thielen (WR42)
- 2018: Thielen (WR7); Diggs (WR11)
Addison is firmly in play as a borderline WR3 alongside guys like Treylon Burks, Diontae Johnson, and Jahan Dotson. This is a tier of talented WRs that offers drafters one last chance at some serious upside before the WR position really starts to fall off a cliff.
As for Osborn, it’s hard to be overly excited considering he profiles as the No. 4 pass-catcher behind Jefferson, Addison, and even Hockenson.
Osborn’s underlying numbers in yards per route run (1.19, 97th among 110 qualified WR) and targets per route run (14.5%, 104th) over the last two seasons are also nothing to write home about. He’s merely a late-round dart who managers probably won’t ever feel overly confident about sliding into a FLEX spot.
- T.J. Hockenson (Ian’s TE4)
- Josh Oliver (TE60)
The ex-Lions TE played 10 full games with the Vikings after being traded in early November:
- Week 9: 9-70-0 (9 targets)
- Week 10: 7-45-0 (10 targets)
- Week 11: 5-34-0 (9 targets)
- Week 12: 5-43-1 (6 targets)
- Week 13: 4-33-0 (6 targets)
- Week 14: 6-77-0 (8 targets)
- Week 15: 3-33-0 (9 targets)
- Week 16: 13-109-2 (16 targets)
- Week 17: 7-59-0 (12 targets)
- Wild Card: 10-129-0 (11 targets)
Based on those performances, Hockenson was on a 17-game pace to hit 117-1,074-5 on 163 targets. Not too shabby!
Top-10 in both yards per route run (1.73, No. 6) and PFF receiving grade (76.4, No. 9) last season (including playoffs), Hockenson is a very good real-life talent with one of the position’s most fantasy-friendly roles. He’s my No. 4 fantasy TE at the moment behind only Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and Darren Waller, the only three TEs with a real chance to lead their team in targets in 2023.
New No. 2 Vikings TE Oliver has caught just 26 passes in 35 career games, so he’s not expected to factor into the overall target share equation much, if at all. Even if Hockenson were to miss time, it would likely lead to more targets for Addison and maybe the RBs, as Oliver is more of a blocking TE than a receiving threat.
2023 Win Total: 8.5
- -115 juice on the over
This total is as low as it is because of how the Vikings went about winning last year. Credit to O'Connell and company for rattling off 13 wins, but Minnesota's expected record (based on points scored and allowed) in 2022 was just 8.4 to 8.6 wins. In short, this team had no business winning 13 games last season.
And yet, the NFC North still isn’t exactly stuffed with world-beating opposition, and the defense could be better under Flores with high-priced offseason additions like DL Marcus Davenport and CB Byron Murphy in town.
This Vikings team managed to go 11-0 in regular season games decided by eight or fewer points last season, so it's fair to assume that regression will hit in 2023. On principle, I’m taking under 8.5 wins for a team that has finished under this mark in three of their five seasons with Cousins under center.
You can tail the under on DraftKings Sportsbook, where you can also get up to $1,000 DK Dollars when you create a new account. Sign up below and start betting today!