2018 Fantasy Football Free Agency: Early projections for Kirk Cousins, Vikings' offense
Tired of the Skol chant? Bad news -- Kirk Cousins' arrival in Minnesota should make the team more efficient than it was in 2017.
- Jamey Eisenberg's
Kirk Cousins has finished as a top-10 Fantasy quarterback each of the last three years. He's completed at least 64 percent of his passes, thrown for at least 4,090 yards and scored at least 29 total touchdowns in each season. He's also attempted at least 540 passes per campaign.
Those are some good numbers, but in order to make it four straight top 10 seasons, Cousins will have to actually improve on his efficiency. With Mike Zimmer in charge, the Vikings have thrown the ball less than 530 times in three of four seasons. Even with a big, fat guaranteed contract, Cousins won't overhaul the philosophy of a veteran coach like Zimmer – especially if second-year back Dalvin Cook is healthy for the start of training camp.
The good news? Cousins has a supporting cast that made Case Keenum look great last season. Asking for a more efficient quarterback isn't too tall an order. Not at all.
In Better Hands
Cousins had a talented receiving corps in Washington, but he actually has a much better – and more efficient unit – in Minnesota:
Again, take note that the Vikings found this level of success with Keenum. It's certainly possible they all take their catch rates and yards after catch to an even higher level with Cousins. Fantasy owners should salivate over that.
Channeling the Red Zone
This is where the Vikings should really become more effective with Cousins. Of his 100 career passing touchdowns (including the playoffs), 64 of them have come in the red zone with 39 of them inside the 10-yard line. He also has just five career red-zone interceptions on 258 pass attempts.
Crazy thing is, Cousins has room to improve deep in enemy territory – he has a career 55.4 percent completion rate and a 95.8 QB rating.
Minnesota also has room to improve in the red zone. The team ranked 13th in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns at a 55.6 percent clip (worse than the Bengals, Raiders, Ravens and Bears!). This despite ranking fourth in football in red-zone opportunities per game.
The magic ingredient isn't going to be Cousins – it's going to be new playcaller John DeFilippo. He was the quarterbacks coach for the Eagles last season, and one of his weekly tasks for the world champs was organizing plays in the red zone. Fantasy owners should feel good about the chances of Cousins improving in the red zone because of "Flip," though it won't hurt that he'll also have that Twin Cities Trio as regular threats.
In the 14 games Diggs played last season he averaged 6.8 targets per game while Thielen came through for 8.3 and Rudolph had 4.6. Cousins definitely likes his slot receivers, but the most prolific one he worked with, Crowder, saw around 100 targets in each of his last two years. Thielen should get a little more than that – perhaps 120 (or 7.5 per game) is reasonable. Paired with what could be a judicious 66 percent catch rate, Thielen would have close to 80 catches. If we then project the 14.0 yard average he's had since 2016 then Thielen would have 1,100 yards. His touchdown totals have never been big, and it'll probably stay that way.
Early Fantasy projection for Thielen: 79 catches, 1,100 yards and five touchdowns.
That should be good for a top-15 finish in non-PPR and top-10 in PPR.
Cousins definitely doesn't mind uncorking deep passes and will be excited about Diggs' potential. I expect a bump to 7.3 targets per game – a half-target improvement from 2017. Unfortunately, you should also expect injuries to be a concern, just like they have each of his first three seasons. It leaves Diggs with 102 targets, which would be the second-best total of his career. His catch rate fell from 75 percent to 67.4 percent last year thanks to moving out of the slot. Figure he'll be right around 65 percent this year, which would lead to 66 catches. It's easy to envision Diggs' receiving average jumping with Cousins to as high as 13.8 yards per. The verdict would mean 910 yards – a career high – with more touchdowns than anyone else on the Vikings.
Early Fantasy projection for Diggs: 66 catches, 910 yards and eight touchdowns. '
Diggs would have a shot at a top-15 finish in both standard and PPR with those numbers.
Rudolph's role shouldn't change as a short-area and red-zone matchup nightmare. He's nowhere near as explosive as Jordan Reed, so don't get any ideas about him mimicking Reed's 6.9 targets per game from 2016 on. Rudolph should settle in around five targets per game, which is basically what he had in 2017. As a matter of fact, we can just cut to the chase here and assume he'll fit in similar numbers to the 57-532-8 line he just made for himself.
Early Fantasy projection for Rudolph: 54 catches, 550 yards and eight touchdowns.
He'll be a top-10 tight end again.
That leaves one last guy to dig into – Cousins. We've already gifted him 21 touchdowns to his top three targets. His running backs should contribute at least three more as should his peripheral players. Those same players should rack up close to 1,500 passing yards as well – Dalvin Cook will have to pull his fair share, and Laquon Treadwell must step up for this to happen. Cousins won't quite get to 30 passing touchdowns, but he should see 30 total! In each of his last four seasons he's rushed for at least four scores. We're not saying he'll get to four-plus again, but he'll supplement his passing stats with what he does on the ground. It only helps him that the Vikings, as of now, do not have a bull like Matt Asiata or Latavius Murray to use at the goal line.
Early Fantasy projection for Cousins: 4,060 yards and 30 total touchdowns.
It's a tally that should put him inside the top-10 among quarterbacks this fall.
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