3-Point Stance: Rookie Cook a divisive fantasy figure
As the mercury rises, Brad Evans and Liz Loza will tackle pressing fantasy questions tied to every NFL team. Read, ponder and get a jump on your offseason research. Wednesday’s topic: The Minnesota Vikings
Some fantasy owners are fully prepared to pull the trigger on hotshot rookie Dalvin Cook. Others, meanwhile, continue to stress caution. At his current 54.5 ADP (RB19) is the rusher OVERVALUED, UNDERVALUED or PROPERLY VALUED?
Liz – OVERVALUED. An explosive talent known for his elusiveness and big-play ability, Cook has a massive opportunity in Minnesota. With Latavius Murray still recovering from ankle surgery, the rookie has dominated first-team reps and impressed the oft-stoic Mike Zimmer. There’s little doubt he’ll nab the starting gig and could see 15 touches per game as early as Week 1. So why do I have him ranked outside of my top-twenty RBs?
Two reasons: 1) Line, 2) Scheme. For years, with Adrian Peterson owning the backfield, the Vikes were a power-running operation. Now that Pat Shurmur has been installed as the team’s offensive coordinator, however, the switch to a zone-blocking scheme has begun. The problem, of course, is that despite efforts to transform the trenches during the free agency and draft periods, some of the linemen from the old regime remain. Furthermore, Tony Sparano, who is a power-blocking enthusiast, continues as the team’s offensive line coach.
Last year’s run-blocking unit was woefully ineffective, earning bottom-three ranks from Football Outsiders. Management’s willingness to address the line and champion an offensive evolution is encouraging… but it’s going to take time. Right now there are too many question marks surrounding the direction and viability of the offense to assume Cook will achieve stud status come September. Best to temper expectations for the immediate future.
Brad – OVERVALUED. Every time I eyeball Cook’s inflated ADP, I wonder if nutty hallucinations are corrupting my brain. A top-60 overall pick? Really?! Hype is one heck of a drug.
Giving him a fair shake, Cook is a gloriously talented rusher. His open-field shimmy, rapid acceleration and interior brawn invigorate the senses. In his final year with the Seminoles, he forced an absurd 92 missed tackles on 288 attempts and netted 4.2 yards after contact per attempt. What he achieved is even more impressive when you consider how mediocre FSU’s line performed in run blocking. No doubt, he’s electrifying, but he’s rather unpolished as a receiver and struggled at times with fumbles.
As Loza discussed, how Minnesota’s offensive line meshes is tantamount to unlocking Cook’s potential. It couldn’t open a hole for a frantic squirrel last year. It’s also important to keep in mind mastering zone-blocking techniques can take multiple weeks. If the big uglies don’t work in concert, holes won’t materialize. Even with that said, Cook does own the vision and patience to find creases.
Equally detrimental is Latavius Murray’s presence. Yes, he’s an upright runner whose fantasy value last season in Oakland was saved by 1-yard end-zone dives, but it’s very likely he’ll secure goal-line duties, relegating Cook to action between-the-20s. Jerick McKinnon, an accomplished receiver, could also dominate third-down work. The rookie is talented, but 13-14 touches per game should be the norm, at least early on. Unless Murray succumbs to injury, Cook finishes around 1,050 combined yards with 4-6 TDs. The volume simply isn’t there. Don’t overspend.
Brad – THIELEN. The undrafted product from Minnesota State underwent an incredible transition from 2015 to 2016. Though he failed to garner 100 total targets, he was the object of efficiency. He hauled in 75 percent of his intended targets, thrived in traffic (WR7 in contested catch rate), committed just one drop and averaged 10.5 yards per target (WR4). Reliable.
Disparagers contend 40 percent of his fantasy-points total (WR26) was accomplished in two games (Weeks 5 and 16), which is accurate. Still, he’s a developing option who possesses many attractive qualities. If he can bolster his targets share from 15.7 to 18-19 percent, it’s not looney to think he tops 75 receptions and 1,000 yards with another handful of TDs. At his 100-plus ADP, Thielen is a bargain equivalent to BOGO beers.
Liz – DIGGS. A classic case of “you get what you pay for,” Diggs’ hog rate in tandem with his athletic profile make him the superior option. Even after being hobbled by a groin strain the team’s No. 1 WR continued to draw targets, averaging nearly six catches per game between Week 7 and 16. A top-thirty fantasy play in PPR formats, Diggs racked up the fourteenth most catches in the league last year. His health and conditioning continue to be an issue, but the potential to produce WR2 numbers is 100 percent there. I’d take his ceiling over Thielen’s floor any day.
MAD LIB. Excluding “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the Christmas song that best applies to Kyle Rudolph’s 2017 fantasy value is ____.
Liz – LET IT SNOW! LET IT SNOW! LET IT SNOW! The second most targeted player at the position (120 looks), Rudolph broke out in a big way last year. Working as a safety valve for Sam Bradford, the big-bodied red zone target closed out 2016 with a career effort, recording a 83-840-7 stat line.
While the Vikings’ inability to run the ball certainly helped to boost Rudolph’s numbers, I’m not anticipating a massive regression this season. After all, Shurmur began his career as a TEs coach and likes to feature the position. Plus, Minnesota’s receiving options are far from numerous. The former Domer probably won’t repeat a top-three fantasy finish, but he’s still a solid TE1. His current ADP of TE10 is right on (no pun intended) target. FF: 71-698-6
Brad – MISTLETOE AND HOLLY. Pucker up, buttercup. Anyone who plays the patience game at TE is sure to be rewarded. The position is chock full of door busters, underpriced commodities who allow savvy strategists the opportunity to focus on stockpiling backs and receivers.
Invest in Rudolph and by seasons end you’ll want to smooch him. He’s tough in traffic (No. 8 in contested catch percentage in ’16) and a sore thumb inside the 20. Carrying over last season’s 32.9 red-zone targets share will prove difficult, especially if Murray cashes in on his scoring opportunities, but Sam Bradford loves the TE when near the goal-line. Basically a more TD-reliable version of Zach Ertz, Rudolph is a gift from Santa’s sack near pick No. 100 (96.2 ADP). Anticipate final numbers in range of 79-770-7.