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Fantasy Football Breakouts, Busts, and Locks - Minnesota Vikings 2022 Outlook

Dalvin Cook - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, DFS Lineup Picks

Welcome to our fantasy football Breakouts, Busts, and Locks, a series on RotoBaller where our writers look at three key players on each NFL team. Today, we're talking about the Minnesota Vikings.

The fantasy star of the Vikings is Justin Jefferson, who we won't be talking about in this article, but only because I decided to turn the "lock" part into a chance to talk about fantasy football strategy. Jefferson is great. He's a high-end WR1. Draft him.

Below, you'll find a fantasy football breakout candidate, a fantasy football bust candidate, and a safe fantasy football pick for the Vikings based on early ADP for fantasy football drafts in 2022.

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Fantasy Football Breakout: Irv Smith Jr.

Is this finally the year that Irv Smith Jr. breaks out?

Ranked as a mid-tier TE2 right now, Smith didn't play last season due to a meniscus injury. We last saw him on the field in 2020 when he was targeted 43 times, catching 30 passes for 365 yards and five touchdowns. That was while he was splitting time with Kyle Rudolph.

Heading into 2022, here are the tight ends on the Vikings roster who aren't named Irv Smith Jr.: Ben Ellefson, Johnny Mundt, Zach Davidson, and Nick Muse.

Those four players have combined for 18 targets in the NFL.

Just based on that, it's safe to assume that the Vikings expect Smith to be the full-time tight end, even with him coming off of the injury.

New Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell was most recently the offensive coordinator for the Rams, which targeted the tight end position 94 times last year, the sixth-fewest amount of targets to that position in the league.

If Smith was splitting that low volume with multiple tight ends, I'd be worried. But based on roster construction, he isn't. And when Smith was getting a full-time workload over the last three weeks of 2020, he had a pair of touchdowns, with numbers that would average out over a full season to 62 catches for 680 yards and 11 touchdowns, per Pro Football Reference. In half-PPR, that's 165 fantasy points, which last season should have made him the overall TE4 behind Mark Andrews, Travis Kelce, and Dalton Schultz. The 9.7 points per game would have been sixth.

Obviously, it's not as easy as taking a three-game sample and multiplying it. The touchdowns are the biggest thing that we'd likely see a drop from that calculation. But Smith has the upside to finish as a top-10 tight end and is currently being drafted as a TE2.


Fantasy Football Bust: Adam Thielen

Thielen is currently being drafted as a low-end WR3, which is a fine place for him to go. But if there's a Vikings player that crashes this year, it's probably Thielen.

Thielen will be 32 when the season starts and is entering his 10th season with the Vikings. He deal with an ankle injury near the end of last season.

Thielen has 24 touchdown catches over the last two seasons, which is...a lot, especially when you consider that he'd never had double-digit touchdowns in a season before 2020.

But that high touchdown rate is obscuring the fact that Thielen's involvement in the Vikings' offense has waned.

In 2018, Thielen completed his second 1,000-yard season in a row and averaged 85.8 yards per game. In 2021, he was at 55.8 yards per game.

His production has been dropping, but his ability to find the end zone has buoyed his fantasy numbers. Can he sustain that? Will health be an issue? There are just a few too many question marks with Thielen this year. If someone on this team crashes (not counting injury-related issues that could randomly pop up across the team), it's likely Thielen.


Fantasy Football Lock: Dalvin Cook/Alexander Mattison

Let's talk about a fun strategy. The days of needing insurance policies for your RB1 are basically over because a) there are fewer guys who have full control of a backfield and b) there are fewer guys who would have full control of a backfield if the guy ahead of them gets hurt.

But there is one scenario where stacking a team's running backs can be an extremely valuable move, and that's with the Minnesota Vikings.

While a new coaching staff could change things in Minnesota, I think the success of the run game is something that they should look at and decide to keep fairly similar to what they had in the past.

Dalvin Cook has never played a full season. It's a pretty safe bet to assume that he misses at least a few games because that always happens. Usually, you might not want to draft someone with that kind of injury concern, but Cook has simply been too good to ignore when he is on the field. Since 2019, he's played in 41 games and has averaged 93.9 rushing and 26.9 receiving yards per contest, with 36 total touchdowns in that span. When he's on the field, Cook's a high-end RB1.

And when he's not on the field, Alexander Mattison is a must-start player.

I swung over to RotoViz to use their game screener app, where you can break a player's stats down by who did/didn't play in a game.

Mattison had played in six games without Cook. In those games, he averages 20.38 PPR points per game, 20.17 rushing attempts, and 79.5 rushing yards. He's not quite to the Cook level, but he's proven to be a reliable fantasy option any time that Cook isn't active.

I see no reason to think that changes, which is why pairing Cook and Mattison and ensuring you get 17 weeks of high-end production from the running back position is my "safe" pick for the Vikings.

(Also, draft Justin Jefferson.)

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