2020 NFL coaching changes: Minnesota Vikings

2020 NFL coaching changes: Minnesota Vikings

Coaching Change

2020 NFL coaching changes: Minnesota Vikings

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(Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports)

Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski turned a stint of less than two full years at the position into the head coaching gig of the Cleveland Browns, and it resulted in Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer naming veteran offensive mastermind Gary Kubiak the OC for 2020.

The move makes a ton of sense for a number of reasons. Primarily, this team has tremendous “win-now pressure” to go on top of playing in a tough division and highly competitive conference. Rather than turning over the keys to an inexperienced playcaller, letting Kubiak drive this supercharged offense helps ensure it will achieve peak performance. His offensive system won’t be much different from what Stefanski ran, since Kubiak helped develop that system.

If you remember back to Stefanski taking over for the fired John DeFilippo in 2018, Zimmer wanted to return to his roots with a ground-based offense. The Vikings were extremely effective running the ball in 2019 under Stefanski, and only two teams (SF, BAL) passed less often than Minnesota (50.5 percent run plays). Six of the seven teams to run the most plays on the ground were in the postseason this year, whereas just KC out of the 11 most pass-happy teams clinched a postseason berth. Remaining committed to such a formula is Zimmer’s directive in hiring Kubiak, the 2019 assistant head coach.

A quick refresher on Kubiak’s history reminds us of his love for running the football. Due, in part, to past health issues, he sat out of coaching in 2017 and ’18, instead holding a consultation role with the Denver Broncos. Granted, much has changed across the NFL from 1995 to present day, yet we have seen Kub produce top rushing and passing offenses, depending upon the personnel. While he mostly found success with average quarterback talent and a superstar in his last hoorah, it’s not like too many of Kubiak’s running backs were elite, either.

Offense
Rushing Off
Passing Off
Year
Tm
Role
Yds
Pts
TO
Att
Yds
TD
Y/A
FL
Att
Yds
TD
Int
1995
DEN
OC
3
9
14
16
5
13
2
22
7
7
8
8
1996
DEN
OC
1
4
17
2
1
2
4
25
16
13
5
12
1997
DEN
OC
1
1
6
6
4
5
2
7
20
9
4
6
1998
DEN
OC
3
2
3
2
2
1
2
3
21
7
5
8
1999
DEN
OC
14
18
10
9
12
10
14
8
10
15
26
16
2000
DEN
OC
2
2
7
4
3
3
6
17
9
3
6
5
2001
DEN
OC
22
10
9
6
10
30
19
3
20
25
8
18
2002
DEN
OC
3
7
11
11
5
5
3
4
14
8
18
23
2003
DEN
OC
7
10
7
2
2
3
4
2
26
22
16
18
2004
DEN
OC
5
9
18
2
4
15
8
5
16
6
8
25
2005
DEN
OC
5
7
1
2
2
3
4
5
25
18
20
2
2006
HOU
HC
28
28
11
21
21
14
20
16
23
27
28
8
2007
HOU
HC
14
12
31
22
22
16
24
27
19
11
12
28
2008
HOU
HC
3
17
30
16
13
11
13
20
7
4
13
29
2009
HOU
HC
4
10
16
20
30
18
31
17
4
1
5
17
2010
HOU
HC
3
9
4
19
7
1
3
2
10
4
17
7
2011
HOU
HC
13
10
6
1
2
3
8
22
30
18
18
3
2012
HOU
HC
7
8
6
4
8
4
16
1
18
11
18
10
2013
HOU
HC
11
31
26
22
20
28
15
9
6
15
25
28
2014
BAL
OC
12
8
6
11
8
5
7
9
17
13
12
8
2015
DEN
HC
16
19
29
17
17
12
13
7
13
14
28
32
2016
DEN
HC
27
22
21
15
27
20
28
30
17
21
21
12

Kubiak didn’t call the plays himself in each of those seasons. However, including them is a must, since he didn’t take his finger off of the heartbeat of his teams’ systems. Whether it be handpicking the playcaller, constructing a game plan, and/or interjecting with a specific call during a game, Kubiak never let the offensive designs truly go out of his control. He also had a large role in molding the Stefanski system of 2019, as mentioned.

Zone blocking is a staple of a Kubiak offense, and the outside stretch run is one of his favorite plays. The offense loves to deceive defenses through play-action passing, rollouts, bootlegs, misdirections and a plethora of personnel groupings. Being a West Coast system, running backs are expected to catch, and tight ends are just as important as route runners as blockers. Receivers are asked to block as much as any team. They operate with short-area routes and clearouts to keep defenses scrambling to cover the proper level.

Personnel changes

Surprisingly, on offense, that is, the Vikings have no noteworthy impending free agents. No team has less money with which to work during free agency, and there are several familiar defensive faces poised to walk for one reason or another.

Soaking up 15.5 percent of the overall salary cap, quarterback Kirk Cousins should be asked to rework his deal. The team could ask him to restructure his contract in a way that adds time to the final year of his original three-year pact, or the Vikings will let him ride it out at $31 million against the cap and limit their ability to spend elsewhere.

Left tackle Riley Reiff may be asked to restructure, and Minnesota would save $8.8 million against the cap by releasing the veteran.

Nearly 13 percent of the cap is tied up in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs alone. Dalvin Cook enters the final year of his rookie deal ahead of what figures to be his desire to ink a bank-breaking contract.

Fantasy football assessment

The most simplistic view is little should change under Kubiak. So long as the running game is effective, the passing game can be tuned into an efficient machine that operates on precision and yards after the catch, rather than sheer volume.

Cousins will continue to be asked to produce as a game manager first, gunslinger second. That results in uneven fantasy returns but can be explosive when everything properly aligns. He’s a fringe QB1 and a safer No. 2 or rotational passer in 2020 drafts.

Cook may see a few more reps if the Vikings don’t intend to re-sign him after the season. Take that into consideration: If no long-term extension is reached¬† between the two sides before your fantasy draft, Cook might be abused with a heavy workload. Either way, he’s an elite RB1 in all formats. Handcuffing Alexander Mattison is the way to go.

The wideouts, primarily Diggs and Thielen, will continue to be inconsistent in this type of an offense. Diggs is a streaky player as it is, and Thielen should remain the preferred fantasy option, despite his lengthy absence with a bum hammy in 2019. He adds more to fantasy lineups across the board than the volume-dependent Diggs, whose game is better suited for PPR setups. Thielen is a borderline WR1 (much safer as a No. 2), and Diggs is a low-end WR2 in PPR or third in conventional scoring.

Tight end was a volatile position for this offense in 2019. Veteran Kyle Rudolph was in a slumber much of the way before awakening in grand fashion as Thielen battled his hamstring injury. We also saw flashes from rookie Irv Smith Jr., and he could be asked to take on a much larger role in 2020 — which presumably would come at the expense of Rudolph’s fantasy football contributions. Neither player is a starting target just yet in 12-team leagues with typical lineup requirements.

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