When I was a pubescent boy, deciphering the ebbs and flows of the squiggly lines from the scrambled cable channels provided much pleasure. I owe all my creative juices to that endeavor. After my voice cracked and hair appeared in places that never existed before….it was never one hair, then two hairs. One day it was nothing. The next day there was a forest. One of life’s great mysteries. Anyways, figuring out how to get onto all the bases was the next challenge. Then, it was about finding a woman that would actually say yes. Kids. White picket fence. Yadda yadda. Now, it’s about fantasy sports. Wet dreams and tents in the pants are fostered by thinking about men playing with a brown, prolate spehroid-shaped ball. Talk about devolution. It is what it is, though. With all that’s been going on in this Rona-infested world, my one solace has been from the sexual healing of Adam Thielen. Sorry wife and kids. Here’s why:
In 2018, the Vikings rushed 357 times and attempted 606 passes under John DeFilippo, good for 27th and 6th in the league respectively. Mike Zimmer, a defensive-minded coach wasn’t having any of that. As a result, he went with Kevin Stefanski as offensive coordinator the following year and mandated a more run-heavy approach. Mission accomplished, as the Vikings rushed 476 times and attempted only 466 passes, good for 4th and 30th. But Stefanski became the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns in the offseason and Gary Kubiak was promoted.
Kubiak has been in the league 22 years, as both a head coach and offensive coordinator. Over that span, his teams have ranked on average 10th in rushing at 473 attempts per game and 16th in passing with 541 attempts per game. Those 444 passes that Kirk Cousins attempted last season? There’s a good chance that increases by around 100 on the season, which would be good for around 6 per game. Rudy has Cousins projected for 538 pass attempts.
Kubiak’s history alone doesn’t automatically mean a more pass-heavy approach though. Another reason for a possible increase in pass attempts could be a result of the Vikings defense. Four starters from last season’s unit are no longer on the team: Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes, Everson Griffen, and Trae Waynes. The loss of Rhodes may be a positive, as he was one of the worst cornerbacks in the league according to Pro Football Focus, but not having Griffen and his eight sacks across from Danielle Hunter could be huge. Ifeadi Odenigbo is slated to replace Griffen and, while he did record seven sacks of his own, how will he hold up in a more prominent role? In addition, now the depth of the pass rushing unit is questionable. Losing Joseph as an interior pass rusher will also be big. Shamar Stephen was ranked 116th according to Pro Football Focus in pass rushing and Michael Pierce has potential as a pass rusher but is more known as a run stuffer. UPDATE: Pierce has decided to opt out of the upcoming season.
The big news of the offseason was the trade of Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills. Diggs garnered 94 targets last season with rookie Justin Jefferson his primary replacement. Rudy has Jefferson projected for 94 targets. Who am I to go against Rudy, but I have my doubts at that number, especially since rookies could have a tough time getting up to speed this season. Let’s say he does get 94 targets, though. If the pass attempts do increase by around 100 for Cousins, where do those attempts go to? The Vikings ran 66% of their plays (data courtesy of Sharp Football Stats) with fewer than three receivers on the field, so the two tight ends, Irv Smith Jr. and Kyle Rudolph, should see some of them. The rest? My money is on Thielen.
Back to Kubiak and his time as the coach of the Houston Texans. When he had a true number one receiver (Andre Johnson), he fed him. When AJ wasn’t injured, he was getting peppered with 177 and 181 targets in a season. I think it’s well within the range of outcomes that Thielen approaches that level this season.
As with all things pertaining to fantasy, it comes down to acquisition cost. In February NFFC drafts, Thielen was being drafted as the 25th wide receiver. In March, that number went down to 19 in response to the Diggs trade. It’s slowly been ticking down to where it is in July, 15th receiver off the board. Now, there is Thielen’s age and injury history to account for. Sports Injury Predictor has chance of injury at 37.3%. That’s discounted in the acquisition cost and isn’t bad for a player who has legitimate top five upside at his position.