With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at how the Minnesota Vikings’ biggest free-agent signing impacts the offense.
Cousins Is an Immediate Upgrade
The past two seasons, the Vikings have been quarterbacked by Sam Bradford and Case Keenum. Both played efficiently, but question marks regarding their long-term viability — Could Bradford stay healthy? Was Keenum for real? — led to the team acquiring Kirk Cousins.
Cousins brings consistency in areas where Bradford and Keenum are lacking. Since taking over as Washington’s starter in 2015, Cousins hasn’t missed a single game. He’s also never thrown for fewer than 4,000 yards or 25 touchdowns, which are both thresholds Keenum and Bradford failed to reach in Minnesota. In the past three seasons, Cousins’ adjusted yards per attempt figures have come in at 7.8, 8.0 and 7.5, respectively, compared to Bradford’s 7.3 in 2016 and Keenum’s 7.6 in 2017. Accuracy-wise, all three quarterbacks are quite similar. In 2016, Bradford set the NFL record in completion percentage with 71.4%. In 2017, Keenum registered a very solid 67.6%. Cousins has averaged a completion percentage of 67.0% over the last three seasons. He posted his lowest mark, 64.3%, in 2017, his first season as a starter without former offensive coordinator Sean McVay. Even if Cousins is slow to adapt to the scheme of new Vikings offensive coordinator, he should be able to complete a high percentage of his passes. DeFilippo also coaxed 33 touchdowns out of Carson Wentz in 2017, 24 of which were in the red zone, second in the league. Cousins has room to grow on his red-zone efficiency rankings of eighth, 18th, and ninth over the past three seasons, respectively.
Cousins should find himself with time to set up big plays as well. Last season, the Redskins offensive line was often injured, which resulted in him being sacked 7.1% of the time, 15th-most among qualifying starters. Per Pro Football Focus, Cousins threw for a 68% completion percentage, 8.3 yards per attempt, and a passer rating of 107.2 in games when he had a fully healthy offensive line, but in games where he was missing three or more starters, those numbers dipped to 63%, 7.0, and 83.2, respectively. In comparison, Keenum was only sacked on 4.4% of his dropbacks in 2017.
Stefon Diggs Is the Wideout Cousins Has Been Waiting For
Last season, Cousins’ top wide receiver on the outside was Josh Doctson, who posted an abysmal 502 yards and caught six touchdowns in 2017. On 78 targets, Doctson was only able to average 2.2 receptions per game, catching a paltry 44.4% of his passes. He never scored more than 14.1 PPR points in a game, and he posted just a 37.5% Consistency on DraftKings, with a -0.76 average Plus/Minus to boot, per our NFL Trends tool.
Enter Stefon Diggs.
In 14 games in 2017, Diggs earned 849 yards and eight touchdowns. He was targeted 95 times in those 14 games and averaged 4.6 receptions per game. He also ranked fifth in wide receiver DVOA, whereas Doctson ranked 65th, per Football Outsiders.
Diggs had injury issues last season but exploded down the stretch. In his final six games (including playoffs), he averaged a 100% Consistency Rating and a Plus/Minus of 4.51 on DraftKings. Diggs is a significant leap in talent over Doctson, and with Cousins at the helm, the opportunity should be ripe for Diggs to earn his first 1,000-yard season so long as he can limit the nagging injuries that have plagued him throughout his career.
Adam Thielen Is Way Better Than Jamison Crowder
Jamison Crowder has been Cousins’ primary slot receiver and a favorite target of his in his three seasons as starter. Crowder brought in 192 catches for 2,240 yards and 12 touchdowns over that span, but with Jordan Reed banged up and DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon no longer around to command coverage, Crowder struggled in 2017. In a season where he was targeted a career-high 103 times, his Consistency on DraftKings was only 41%, down from 68% in 2016.
Cousins’ slot receiver is now Adam Thielen, who is coming off his best season yet. Thielen moved primarily to the slot for the first time in 2017, racking up 91 catches on 142 targets for 1,276 yards and four touchdowns. Thielen bested Crowder yards per catch (14.0-12.0), receiving yards per game (79.8-52.6), and receptions per game (5.7-4.4) in 2017.
Given how often Cousins targeted and still produced with an inferior Crowder, Thielen should be expected to be a viable fantasy option once again in 2018.
Kyle Rudolph Is Very Familiar With the End Zone
At tight end, Cousins is going from a more athletic player with a more extensive injury history in Reed to one who hasn’t missed a game since 2014 in Kyle Rudolph. Reed played in only 32 of a possible 48 games in 2015-2017 — meaning he’s only played two full seasons in the last three years — but despite that, he still racked up 1,849 yards and 19 touchdowns, 17 of which were red zone scores. In comparison, Rudolph racked up 1,867 yards and 20 touchdowns, with 14 in the red zone, in 48 games.
The reason I bring up the red-zone touchdowns is because of DeFilippo’s presence. Zach Ertz scored a career-high eight touchdowns in 2017 under DiFilippo, all of which were red-zone scores. DeFilippo figures to implement a similar strategy with the Vikings, who are no stranger to using Rudolph in the red zone either: His 50 red-zone targets in 2015-2017 rank sixth-most in the league.
With heavily targeting tight ends in the red zone being a constant for both Cousins and DeFilippo, it’s fair to posit that Rudolph will score lots of touchdowns in 2018.
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Pictured above: Kirk Cousins
Photo credit: Geoff Burke – USA TODAY Sports