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Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions: The 2024 Minnesota Vikings

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Welcome to Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions for the 2024 fantasy football season. Our Chris Meaney and Daniel Kelley are going to go team-by-team around the league all summer. They’ll pick sleepers, busts and bold predictions for each team. Sometimes they’ll agree! Sometimes they will go completely opposite one another! And that’s fine, because they’ll defend their positions, and you can decide for yourself who to side with. Up today: The Minnesota Vikings.

Below, they tackle the team, starting with their picks in “The Answers,” then expanding on their picks in “The Explanation.”

2024 Sleepers, Busts & Bold Predictions: Minnesota Vikings

The Answers

Favorite Sleeper

Meaney: Sam Darnold
Kelley: Josh Oliver

Biggest Bust

Meaney: Aaron Jones
Kelley: Jordan Addison

Bold Prediction

Meaney: Sam Darnold Flirts with the Top-15
Kelley: Justin Jefferson Sets a New Career High in Targets

The Explanations

Sleepers

Meaney: Sam Darnold

I figured when the Vikings traded up to select J.J. McCarthy 10th overall he would be the guy to replace Kirk Cousins as soon as Week 1. That still may be the case, but there’s a lot of talk out of Minnesota that Sam Darnold could open up the season as the team’s starter. 

According to DraftKings, Darnold is -230 to be the Week 1 starter (McCarthy is +175). If Darnold opens up as the Vikings’ starting QB he may just keep the gig for a bit when you consider the weapons he’ll have and the great play calling from Kevin O’Connell. I believe Justin Jefferson is QB proof thanks to a couple strong showings from him with Nick Mullens last season. If Darnold is a starting QB in Minnesota, he’ll be fantasy relevant in at least superflex leagues. 

Kelley: Josh Oliver

Everything coming out of Minnesota seems to indicate they’ll bring T.J. Hockenson from his Week 16 torn ACL and MCL slowly. I’d expect him to open the season on the PUP list, and that might stretch more toward midseason. And assuming that happens, drafters will hunt for a fill-in tight end for that time, given how productive Hockenson was in that role. I expect they’ll migrate toward the recently signed Robert Tonyan, remembering the 11-touchdown season on his resume and with positive reports coming out of early workouts. But it’s important to note that Tonyan is now 30, and outside of his 2020 (11 touchdowns on 59 targets), he has 6 touchdowns on 134 targets in six years, with no other season of more than 2 scores.

So no, I don’t think Robert Tonyan will be the replacement Viking TE. I think it’ll be Josh Oliver (to be fair, I’ve touted Oliver as a sleeper before, so maybe I’m just stubborn.) Oliver has been stuck in a TE2/TE3 role the last few years, but then he’s spent that time backing up Mark Andrews and T.J. Hockenson, so it makes sense that he might not have gotten full run. It’s a small sample, but per the FTN Splits Tool, note what Oliver has done in games with at least 4 targets in his career:

That’s 12.4 PPR points per game … or right between David Njoku and Trey McBride last year. A Josh Oliver draft pick/waiver claim won’t be a full-season move, but it’s a nice upside play for however long Hockenson misses.

Busts

Meaney: Aaron Jones
DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 29: Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) runs down the sidelines for a long gain during the Detroit Lions versus Green Bay Packers game on Thursday December 29, 2019 at Ford Field in Detroit, MI. (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire)
DETROIT, MI – DECEMBER 29: Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) runs down the sidelines for a long gain during the Detroit Lions versus Green Bay Packers game on Thursday December 29, 2019 at Ford Field in Detroit, MI. (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire)

Health is my biggest concern when it comes to Aaron Jones. He was limited to 11 games last season, and he’s missed time in three of the past four seasons. He’s also been less efficient near the goal line as he only has eight rushing touchdowns over the past three seasons, compared to 37 over his first four seasons. He’s still great with the ball in his hands, as a runner and as a passer, and we saw that in the playoffs. There also isn’t much competition in Minnesota so he should get all the work he can handle, especially in the red zone. However, the line isn’t fantastic, and the quarterback play may be average or below average.

Kelley: Jordan Addison

Jordan Addison scored 10 touchdowns on 108 targets last year. Among 127 players with at least 50 targets, his 9.3% rate was eighth highest. It’s not a number that has to indicate regression (I use 10% as my threshold, which also isn’t hard and fast), but it’s one that is at the least brushing up against it flirtatiously. On top of that is the types of touchdowns Addison scores — long ones. Last year, he scored 62-, 60-, 42-, 39- and 37-yard touchdowns, and he added two more of 20 yards. In other words, five of his 10 touchdowns were outside the red zone, and if the red zone were one yard shorter, it becomes even. Think about our examples of scoring like that. As a rookie, Ja’Marr Chase scored eight of his 13 touchdowns from 20 yards or deeper. The next year, he scored 4 fewer touchdowns despite more targets. Most players who score long touchdowns end up getting the unfortunate “tackled at the 3” distinction afterward. And considering Addison was relatively pedestrian in other regards (bottom 40% of qualified receivers in yards per route run and target share) and an unproven quarterback, and I’m steering clear of him as a starter.

Bold Predictions

Meaney: Sam Darnold Flirts with the Top-15

Originally I was going to suggest that Jordan Addison would have more touchdowns this season than Justin Jefferson, but we saw that last season. I’ll double-down on Darnold not only winning the job in camp but keeping it throughout the season. Not only will he keep the job all season, he’ll finish as a top-15 QB in fantasy football. We’ll likely see some regression from Addison, and T.J. Hockenson may miss the first few weeks, but Darnold is set up to have success should he learn O’Connell’s offense. Let’s not forget Darnold was the third overall pick in 2018. He’s very talented with a strong arm.

Kelley: Justin Jefferson Sets a New Career High in Targets

For some players, a new career high in targets might be notable but not that big a deal. For Jefferson? His 184 targets in 2022 are tied for 17th all time (well, since targets were counted in 1992). But still, that’s on the table for the new richest non-QB of all time in 2024. Let’s look at the reasons:

  • He’ll be 25 when the season starts, just about prime age.
  • As mentioned above, T.J. Hockenson is likely to miss at least some, and maybe a lot, of the season.
  • Also as mentioned above, Jordan Addison’s success in 2023 was based a lot on his TD prowess, and he wasn’t as efficient as you’d want for a sure No. 2.
  • Aaron Jones is an excellent running back, but he also turns 30 in December and is a strong candidate for a lightening workload to keep him fresh.
  • Maybe the biggest one: Jefferson’s quarterback in 2024 is either going to be:
    • Sam Darnold, who will have every last incentive to prove he can be an NFL starter, and what better way to do so than to pepper your superstar with targets and let him get the stats for you, or
    • J.J. McCarthy, who is 21 and might not be ready for stardom quite yet, so would be likely to lock on to the best player on the team as a security blanket.

Regardless, everything is set up for the best season yet for the Vikings’ WR1. And given what he’s already done in the league, that’s saying a whole lot.

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