2014 Fantasy Draft Values: Minnesota Vikings
I know what you’re thinking: “It’s too early to be talking fantasy football, my girlfriend already has the next 12 weekends of my life booked with apple picking and craft shows.” Fair enough. I’m sure you’re either still glowing in your championship glory, disappointed in your underachievement, or trying to forget that you passed up Jamaal Charles for C.J. Spiller with the No. 3 overall pick in your work league. That last statement is certainly nothing I did in 2013. I have also been known to fib on occasion. But, now is as good a time as any to get the wheels turning for 2014.
For the serious fantasy player, it’s never too early to think about next season, and part of the fun in fantasy football is getting a leg up on your opponents by researching early and often. Every fantasy season is filled with surprises, and the 2013 season was no different. Last summer it would have been nice to have guys on your draft board like that second-year player who played on one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL yet still led the league in receiving after a two-game suspension; or Mike Vick’s backup, who not only led the league in passer rating, but also had one of the best runs at the position in NFL history; or LaDainian Tomlinson’s replacement, who not only finally looked like a reliable fantasy starter, but would also be a top-five back during the playoffs.
All three did so because of opportunities that came for various reasons – mainly coaching changes – but their paths were set before that in the talent they flashed when given chances. I’m going to put together a series of pieces on players from current rosters that could be drafted at a value in next year’s fantasy drafts. These guys may not be available in all dynasty leagues, but in the league’s they’re not available they can be targeted for trades. Most should be available late, or for a value, in redraft leagues.
In late February it’s impossible to predict whether these players will get a bigger role, or be downgraded because of rookies, a new scheme, guys coming off injuries, or free agent signings, but there are plenty of players who showed flashes of potential in 2013 that could carry over to 2014 success.
I’m sure most Vikings fans would love to forget about a disappointing 2013 season considering how good the vibes were the previous year. 2012 saw a playoff berth come because of an exciting win over a bitter rival when their freak of nature, all world, inhuman running back came one rush away from immortality. And things were supposed to get better: Christian Ponder improved – even if he still wasn’t great – over the last four games of the season; Adrian Peterson was, well, still Adrian Peterson; and Greg Jennings was signed to fill the void as a true No. 1 wide receiver. There were also three first round picks thrown in for good measure, but, as fate would have it, things didn’t work out so well.
The season started with seven losses in their first eight games, Ponder couldn’t build on his late-season consistency, and three different starting quarterbacks were used. Leslie Frazier was fired a half an hour after the season ended, and Peterson looked human again. But, all is not lost. There are a lot of things to look forward to in 2014 for Vikings fans, and a couple of those things can greatly benefit you as a fantasy player.
I know what you’re thinking: “Uh, how in the world is a rookie Pro Bowler who finished on a tear going to be under the radar in my draft?” That’s fair, but hear me out, value doesn’t have to mean Round 15.
Patterson did end the season on an absolute fantasy tear, rewarding players who stuck with him or got lucky enough to pick him off of the waiver wire. Here is how his final four games looked:
|Total Points Standard||64.4/1st|
|Total Points PPR||79.4/9th|
|PPO – Standard||0.57/1st|
|PPO – PPR||0.70/2nd|
The chart above also doesn’t show the nearly 1,400 yards in kickoff returns, including two touchdowns, and an NFL-leading 32.4 yards per return. If he isn’t Percy Harvin Jr., I don’t know who is. With any luck, Patterson will stay healthy enough to stay on the field for the Vikings all year and exploit all of his talents.
Everyone knew Patterson had the talent to be special, and it seems like Frazier went for broke at the end of the season with his first round Swiss Army knife. The problem was, he still had an issue or three at the quarterback position. But, Patterson proved himself in several ways during those final four games. He averaged almost six touches per game, over 80 yards, and 1.25 touchdowns to boot. His total points and points per opportunity in both standard and point per reception leagues speak volumes considering the team he was on.
While Frazier and his staff are long gone, the new guys in town are just what Patterson needs. The most important guy on that list is one who could turn Patterson into one of fantasy’s best receivers in 2014, just like he did another second year player in 2013 …
Norval Eugene Turner
It might seem weird to have a sub heading with the name of an offensive coordinator, but it shouldn’t. In fact, in my humble opinion, offensive coordinators don’t get enough consideration in many fantasy circles, but that’s an article for another day.
Norv Turner comes to Minnesota after a crazy year in Cleveland. When it comes to offenses, Turner is about as close to a sure thing as there is in the world of football. In fact, he’s never failed to improve an offense in his first year. The Browns number is the most telling of the bunch below, even if the improvement is the smallest. The fact that Turner improved that offense by almost 400 yards when the centerpiece of his offseason was traded away in Week 2, while preparing with a different backup quarterback on an almost weekly basis is a testament to his skills. I don’t know many who could improve a team under those circumstances.
|Norv Turner Offenses||Year Prior Rank||First Year Rank||Improvement in Yards|
As you can see, every single offense improved from the year before, some of them dramatically. Troy Aikman credits Turner for helping him become a Hall of Famer and even called him the best play caller in football. Turner’s impact on the running game is staggering as well. Emmit Smith increased his rushing yards by over 500 while Frank Gore increased by over 1,000 (albeit in a bigger role).
Turner has also skyrocketed a few receivers’ careers in his time as a coordinator. In 1990, Michael Irvin was a third-year receiver who in his best year saw just 32 receptions. In Turner’s first season in 1991, Irvin was the NFL’s leading receiver in several categories.
Before Turner’s arrival to San Francisco in 2006, Arnaz Battle was just a third/fourth receiver and special teamer. When Turner got to town, he turned the former quarterback into a solid No. 2 that ended up as the NFL’s most sure-handed player that year with zero drops.
|Rise In Production Under Turner||Touches||Yards||TDs|
What Turner did with Gordon in 2013 was just amazing to watch. Gordon was suspended the first two games of the year, then put together a masterful 14-game stretch that saw him go over the 200 yard mark in consecutive weeks while ending the season as the league’s leading receiver.
What’s even more impressive about Gordon’s year is that he accomplished all of that with a hodgepodge of second- and third-string quarterbacks. If you watched any Browns games last season, you could see just how good Gordon was. And half the time I swore he wasn’t even trying. There’s no doubt Turner deserves some of that credit. It wouldn’t surprise me if Gordon’s 2014 season is a little disappointing for fantasy players who expect an improvement from 2013’s numbers.
You can see that each player’s improvement in each category was significant. I have the category labeled “touches” rather than receptions because Turner loves to use athletic wide receivers on end-arounds to keep the defenses guessing. Both Gordon and Battle ran the ball five times with Turner. Irvin’s increase of 73 touches was amazing, but all of his came via receptions. As we’ve already seen, Patterson can indeed run the rock. Expect to see that as a big part of Turner’s game plan for the Vikings in 2014.
Would there have been a natural ascension of these players sans Turner? Probably. Would they have reached the heights they did with Turner? Who knows about Irvin, being that he continued to dominate, but I doubt Gordon or Battle would have.
Can Patterson Be Had At A Value?
Knowing all that we now know, can Patterson really be had at a value? If you play with any Vikings fans, maybe not. Otherwise, probably. Most fantasy players have him in the back of their head, but those players also know that the Vikings have an unsettled quarterback situation. Who knows who the starting quarterback will be in 2014 at this point? Ponder will probably start the year under center again, and that will be a red flag for a lot of fantasy players. And of course people will be afraid of Patterson’s volume because we all know Adrian Peterson will probably go all Adrian Peterson again, and maybe even more so than usual since Turner likes to use his running backs in the passing game.
Could Patterson be the next Gordon? Maybe. All signs point to him being a top fantasy wide receiver, especially in standard and kick return leagues. He may just be the No. 1 overall player in fantasy leagues that reward for return yardage. Turner is already playing mad scientist with the chance to use the former Volunteer. Turner’s past shows that he knows how to use someone with Patterson’s skill set, and Patterson’s shown he can do just about anything asked of him.
As always, get a sense for your league and see what it will take to get Patterson. Put out some feelers, but of course don’t bring too much attention to him. He will be much cheaper than Percy Harvin and has a good chance to outperform Harvin if for no other reason than he’ll probably be healthier.
In redraft leagues, Patterson will be a steal in the sixth round or later in 12-team leagues and still worth it in the fourth and fifth rounds. In dynasty leagues, now is the time to buy. He’s not going to be available to draft in any serious leagues, but if you’re going to trade for him, do it ASAP. Look at the team he’s on and offer up something that caters to that team’s specific weakness.
As time goes on, the chatter about his potential with Turner will only get louder. Read this article by PFF’s Austin Lee, and pay close attention to numbers three, four, and seven. Don’t sell the farm, and always make sure you get more than you give, but as of right now Patterson looks like a 2014 home run.