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NFL Team Preview: Will Dalvin Cook finish as fantasy football's top RB?

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We’re previewing every NFL team to get you ready for the 2021 season. Our analysts will tackle pressing fantasy questions and team win totals, in order from the squad with the least amount of fantasy relevancy all the way to the most talented team. Next up, the 4th-ranked Minnesota Vikings.

1. The electrifying Dalvin Cook finished third in 2020 total fantasy running back scoring. We currently have him ranked second among RBs, behind only Christian McCaffrey. Besides health, what will it take for Cook to finish as the top-scoring running back in 2021?

Dalton: Cook finished with the second-most carries overall (312) and in the red zone (64) last season while missing two games. Put differently, Cook’s 25.4 touches per game led all backs last season, so he’s used as a true workhorse when on the field. Since he’s also one of the league’s best RBs and in a fine situation in Minnesota, it’s easy to see why Cook is going at the top of fantasy drafts despite carrying legit injury risk. There’s an easy path to him finishing as the top-scoring fantasy back in 2021, especially with McCaffrey suddenly showing real durability concerns.

Matt: Cook essentially just needs to stay healthy and maintain his usual workload from an individual standpoint. On a team level, he needs the Vikings to remain a relatively competitive outlet and for the passing offense to continue to pull its weight. Are there any real reasons to project any of those four variables to not be the reality that unfolds this year? Cook could easily be the top back in fantasy this year.

Scott: There's not much to add here. Cook is the consensus No. 2 pick with good reason, and you could legitimately take him first overall. He's versatile, game-script proof, at a good place in his career arc. The only thing that concerns me is a spotty Minnesota offensive line, but heck, you can talk down any pick you want. I'm like most analysts, in the pro-Cook camp. 

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook
Will Dalvin Cook dethrone Christian McCaffrey? (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

2. Justin Jefferson was a revelation in his rookie season, and even though he’s only 22, we have him ranked 14 spots ahead of his running mate in Minnesota, touchdown-machine Adam Thielen. Who would you rather have at ADP in 2021?

Matt: I am targeting both receivers at their current ADP. Jefferson makes total sense as a WR1 for any squad after the best rookie season we’ve seen for a wide receiver since Odell Beckham Jr.’s 2014. Jefferson's standing just south of the NFL’s elite receivers is justified. With that in mind, Adam Thielen seems like a solid discount this year. He was much better than he got credit for last year when I went back and watched him. He’s as rock-solid a No. 2 receiver as there is in the league. With no legitimate No. 3 wideout competing for looks behind them, both players should push for 120-plus targets in 2021.

Scott: I'd be happy with either, but I expect to roster more Thielen this year, as he's the boring, unsexy pick. Welcome to the Ibañez All-Stars, Adam Thielen. Boring veteran efficiency is my jam. 

Dalton: Jefferson ranked second in yards per route run as a rookie last season, behind only Davante Adams. His second-half line was 81-54-773-4. Adam Thielen scored 14 times last season, but that should regress, and he’s on the wrong side of 30 (and routinely banged up). Even with the ADP discrepancy, I’d much rather draft Jefferson, who already belongs in Tier 1 among fantasy receivers.

3. We currently have Irv Smith Jr. ranked 13th among tight ends, but he finished last season as the 22nd highest-scoring TE in fantasy. What’s a more likely scenario for 2021: that he emerges as a top-10 tight end option, or he remains nothing more than a desperation streaming option?

Scott: I worry that Ty Conklin will be a fantasy disruptor; not good enough for gamers to play, but in the way just enough to block a true Smith breakout. That said, Smith's game showed an efficiency spike last year, he's got a pedigree (high draft choice; dad played in NFL), and Year 3 is often when the light goes on for tight ends. So I'm willing to make Smith a proactive target.  

Dalton: Kyle Rudolph’s departure was seemingly good news for Smith’s fantasy value, although coach Mike Zimmer has since claimed Tyler Conklin will be the bigger beneficiary and that Smith’s role should remain the same. I do expect further growth from Smith, who could be busy in the red zone, but I view him as more of a top-15 fantasy TE than top-10. There are more intriguing options at the position.

Matt: The gap between TE10 overall and a streaming option really isn’t that wide. Smith looks like a candidate to land somewhere in the middle of that range. Tyler Conklin and Smith will likely exist in some sort of split at the tight end position but the latter is still a good bet based on his ability. The path to volume is a bit clogged with Jefferson and Thielen demanding a lion’s share of the work and the offense’s overall run-first approach. Smith is a fine target late in drafts that I’m more positive than negative on right now.

Minnesota Vikings projected 2021 fantasy contributors

QB: Kirk Cousins

RB: Dalvin Cook

WR: Justin Jefferson / Adam Thielen

TE: Irv Smith Jr.

Minnesota Vikings O/U on 9 team win total from BetMGM

Scott: One of the easiest calls of the summer, punch the OVER. Look around the division for a moment: Green Bay is the drama team of the year, Chicago is transitioning to a new quarterback at some point; and Detroit is starting over, period. 

The Minnesota offense should move the ball easily, returning all the key components. Sure, Minnesota's defense was a mess last year, but Mike Zimmer won't stand for that again.The Vikings are also a good bet to win this division. Crank up the Prince, get out your purple crayon, and follow me to Minnesota. 

Follow Scott: @scott_pianowski

Follow Dalton: @daltondeldon

Follow Matt: @MattHarmon_BYB