Juggernaut Index, No. 4: Cousins, Cook, Diggs and other formidable fantasy Norsemen

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/min" data-ylk="slk:Vikings">Vikings</a> fever has overtaken the north. This team is legit, and it’s a fantasy power. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
Vikings fever has overtaken the north. This team is legit, and it’s a fantasy power. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Kirk Cousins apparently left a few guaranteed million bucks on the table when he chose to sign with the Minnesota Vikings back in March. Cousins of course still landed a plump deal with the Vikes — we should be careful not to describe his decision to accept $84 million as some sort of remarkable sacrifice. But the fact is, he went to Minnesota primarily because this team is loaded, a clear Super Bowl contender. Every ingredient is in the dish.

For fantasy purposes, the Vikings are an easy club to embrace. There are few mysteries up north and no messy position battles at the skill spots. Offensive touches are concentrated with a small group of exceptional players. Cousins is a clear upgrade over Case Keenum, last year’s quarterback. Over the past three seasons, Kirk completed 67 percent of his throws at 7.8 yards per attempt, producing a passer-rating of 97.5. With him at the controls in Minnesota, this team’s offense should be a relentless purple machine. Coordinator Pat Shurmur left to coach the Giants, but he’s been replaced by rising star John DeFilippo.

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It should be noted that Cousins is no great bargain in recent fantasy drafts (QB8, ADP 83.7), but he’s more than capable of delivering a top-10 positional finish. His floor in this offense should be 4000 yards and 25 scores, assuming a healthy season. You can certainly win a league with Cousins as your every-week fantasy QB.

Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are a damn good tandem

Diggs and Thielen aren’t quite Moss and Carter, but they’re a fantastic duo. Last year, Minnesota quarterbacks attempted 315 passes to wide receivers, and 238 of those throws went to these guys. Both players are technicians, sure-handed receivers and excellent route-runners. Just look at how effortlessly Diggs adjusts to this ball…

…and how quickly Thielen can get a mile of separation from a defensive back…

These guys are ridiculous. Volume clearly isn’t an issue for either player. Thielen has been the slightly better value in fantasy, going 9-10 picks later than Diggs in an average draft (38.3 vs. 28.9). Both receivers have clear WR1 potential, however. Diggs was the No. 14 fantasy wideout on a per-game basis in standard formats last year and Thielen finished at No. 15. Draft either. Or get the pair. Kendall Wright, Laquon Treadwell and preseason legend Chad Beebe (child of Don) will fight for scraps behind Diggs and Thielen.

Kyle Rudolph is well-established as an upper-tier tight end and reliable target in goal-to-go situations. He was the seventh highest-scoring player at his position last season and third the season before. He’s drawn 21 targets inside the 10-yard line over the past two years, leading all tight ends (Graham and Gronk included). If you miss on the big three TEs, Rudolph is a bankable option. DeFilippo’s history with tight ends is promising (Barnidge, Ertz, Burton) and Cousins had plenty of kind words for Rudolph during the offseason. Consider this gem:

“Boy, he’s a friendly target,” Kirk Cousins said of Rudolph while mic’d up during spring practice. “It’s like throwing into a mattress.”

Rudolph is somewhat better after the catch than a standard mattress, but not by much. He’s definitely a guy who pays the fantasy bills by winning in the end-zone; he’s made 15 house calls over the past two seasons and you can expect another 6-8 in 2018.

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/30154/" data-ylk="slk:Dalvin Cook">Dalvin Cook</a>, back in our fantasy plans. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)
Dalvin Cook, back in our fantasy plans. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

Dalvin Cook is recovered, ready to roll

Cook needed very little time to establish himself as one of the NFL’s few great workhorse runners in his rookie season. Before tearing his ACL in Week 4, he was averaging 21.3 touches and 111.0 scrimmage yards per game. He gained 4.8 yards per carry on 74 totes and he hauled in 11 passes on 16 targets. Simply put, Cook was playing like a fantasy cornerstone, a potential league-winner.

All reports on his recovery from surgery have been positive and he was an active participant in camp from the very start. The Vikings had him wrapped in bubble throughout the preseason, but that shouldn’t worry anyone. If you’re eying Cook near the turn picks between the first and second round in your fantasy draft, we can’t argue with the selection. He showed us everything we needed to see last season. Minnesota’s offensive line isn’t an elite group, and it doesn’t help that center Pat Elflein is dinged, but, again, Cook was feasting last year before the knee issue. He’s a great back tied to a productive offense. Go get him.

There’s been buzz about Latavius Murray retaining a prominent rotational role in the Vikings offense, but A) he’s had an ugly preseason and B) Cook out-gained him by nearly a full yard per carry in 2017 (4.8 vs. 3.9). Murray could emerge as an occasional goal-line vulture, sure, but he shouldn’t see many touches that could otherwise go to a healthy Dalvin. Mike Boone and Roc Thomas have each had impressive moments during preseason play, fighting for position on this backfield depth chart.

Minnesota’s defense is a terror

This team’s defense is deep and dominant. Minnesota allowed just 275.9 total yards and 15.8 points per game last season, ranking first in the league in both categories. The Vikings were only mid-pack in sacks and takeaways, so this D/ST wasn’t necessarily a fantasy difference-maker. Still, it’s tough not to like ’em in the season ahead. Eric Kendricks, Harrison Smith, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter are the most interesting IDPs on this roster; Griffen, Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr and Linval Joseph were last year’s Pro-Bowlers. It’s a scary group. Minnesota’s early schedule is full of respectable offenses (SF, GB, PHI, LAR), but the later months appear much friendlier.

This should be a memorable season, Minnesota. Skol and war horns and what not. If the Vikes remain reasonably healthy, we’ll be discussing them deep into January.

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 23.9 (tenth in NFL)
Pass YPG – 234.6 (11)
Rush YPG – 122.3 (7)
Yards per play – 5.4 (12)
Plays per game – 66.3 (6)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami, 30) NY Jets, 29) Baltimore, 28) Oakland, 27) Cleveland, 26) Indianapolis, 25) Washington, 24) Chicago, 23) Tennessee, 22) Jacksonville, 21) Dallas, 20) Tampa Bay, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Denver, 17) San Francisco, 16) Arizona, 15) Seattle, 14) Detroit, 13) Carolina, 12) Houston, 11) Philadelphia, 10) Green Bay, 9) Atlanta, 8) Kansas City, 7) NY Giants, 6) LA Chargers, 5) New England, 4) Minnesota

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