Can Laquon Treadwell and Stefon Diggs Both Thrive in the Vikings' Offense?
Don't you hate it when you are stuck behind a van with tinted windows on the freeway? It's the worst. You can't see. Can't anticipate and plan ahead. Your life becomes a Pavlovian experiment bound to the flashing of the red tail lights in front of you. Swerve to an open lane, though, and the clarity is intoxicating.
This is the feeling I get when I dive into the Minnesota Vikings' offense. There is no identity crisis with this team. Both the offense and philosophy of the coaching staff are clearly defined.
With that said, there are questions on the periphery, mainly in the passing game. With the Vikings selecting Laquon Treadwell in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, will the pie be big enough for both he and Stefon Diggs to be relevant in fantasy football?
In order to answer that question, we must first understand the identity and philosophy of the Vikings' offense.
The Vikings' offense centers around running back Adrian Peterson. And with good reason. You've seen the highlights, but we like to quantify things here at numberFire.
Check out Peterson's production in terms of our Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which quantifies a player's impact in terms of points added above expectation level. For more information on NEP, please visit our glossary.
|Year||Rushes||Rushing NEP/P||RB Average|
Peterson has been elite in three seasons and above average every other year except 2009 and 2014. You can write off 2014, as he only played one game due to suspension. 2009 is a bit of an outlier. He scored 18 touchdowns that year but had numerous costly fumbles. It's not easy to overcome big negative swings (note the league averages for running backs on a per-carry basis; you're expected to lose points on a carry), so not even the 18 scores could turn it around.
Still, as long as Peterson is healthy, he is going to get fed and eat. And eat well.
The captain of the Vikings ship is Mike Zimmer. Before arriving in Minnesota, Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals from 2008 to 2013.
In his first season as defensive coordinator for the Bengals, the team posted an Adjusted Defensive NEP per play score of 0.03, which ranked 14th in the NFL and indicates that they allowed points above expectation to opponents (a negative score would show they held teams below expectation).
The team slowly improved, posting scores of 0.02, 0.03, -0.01, -0.01, and finally a -0.06 in 2013, which was second-best in the NFL during the 2013 season. By contrast, Minnesota's Adjusted Defensive NEP per play in 2013 was 0.10, which ranked 29th.
Any wonder why Vikings ownership decided to hire Zimmer as head coach?
In two seasons in Minnesota, Zimmer helped improve the defense to a score of 0.06 (21st) in 2014 and 0.04 (13th) in 2015. With draft picks and free agent signings, the defense could really shine now.
Zimmer is going to play to his defense. Last season, the Vikings rushed 474 times as a team, with Peterson carrying 327 times. Both figures are the third-most since Peterson has been in the league. In 2013 and 2014, they owned a pass-to-run ratio of 1.39 and 1.38, respectively, ranking 15th and 13th, respectively. In 2015, that plummeted to 1.05, the third-lowest mark in the NFL.
If Zimmer is the captain of the ship, then Teddy Bridgewater is the pilot. Unfortunately, Teddy has not been good. His Passing NEP last year was 18.48, right below Brock Osweiler and above A.J. McCarron, neither of whom started 16 games like Bridgewater did.
For perspective, Carson Palmer posted a league-best 186.49 Passing NEP. Per drop back, Bridgewater's Passing NEP was 0.04, with the league average at 0.11. Good thing the Vikings have Peterson and a solid defense.
There is reason for optimism in the Vikings passing game for 2016, though.
Diggs had a great rookie season, catching 52 passes on 84 targets for 720 yards and 4 touchdowns. He missed three games due to injury, so those numbers could have been higher. Having a year of experience under his belt and coming into 2016 fully healthy only bodes well.
Out is Mike Wallace and in comes Treadwell. Wallace was not a good fit for the Vikings, as Bridgewater is not a proficient deep-ball thrower. Wallace's Reception NEP per target was 0.56, compared to the league average of 0.67. The front office recognized this deficiency and addressed it by selecting Treadwell in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Treadwell is the antithesis of Wallace. He ran a slow 40-yard dash at the combine (4.63 seconds) and likes to operate within the hashes. He shields defenders with his massive 6'2", 221-pound frame and fights for the ball in traffic. On paper, he looks like the perfect weapon for Bridgewater's skills.
In his first two seasons, Bridgewater had a touchdown rate of 3.5% and 3.1%, but that rate should be going up toward the 4.1% mark in 2016. If he stays in the 450 attempt range, then that means 18 touchdowns, a 4-touchdown increase from 2015.
Treadwell, who could shine in the red-zone, could play a huge role in that improvement.
The Vikings rushed 474 times and passed 454 times last season. Diggs and Wallace ranked as the 46th and 74th fantasy wide receivers. Since 2007, Peterson's rookie year, here are the fantasy ranks for the top two wide receivers on the Vikings.
|Year||WR1 Rank||WR2 Rank|
The 2008 season was interesting, as no receiver garnered more than 95 targets or caught more than 53 passes, yet they finished in the WR3 and WR4 range.
The 2009 and 2010 years had Brett Favre, a Hall-of-Famer, at the helm, so WR1 and WR2 production there make sense. Peterson missed four games in 2011, and Percy Harvin decided to go berserk on the league. The rest of the time, you are looking at WR4 to WR6 production. There's no Harvin on this Vikings team, and I think it's safe to say that Bridgewater is not a Hall-of-Fame quarterback.
Our projections have Bridgewater attempting 497 passes this season with Peterson carrying 324 times. Diggs is slated to finish as the 32nd-best fantasy receiver with Treadwell 50th. That's WR3 and WR4 territory for both, so yes, both Diggs and Treadwell can be fantasy relevant.
Just don't expect top-tier production from either as Bridgewater does spread the ball around. No one received more than 83 targets last season, and four players garnered at least 50 targets.
And the alpha and the omega of the Vikings is still Peterson.