2021 NFL coaching changes: Minnesota Vikings

2021 NFL coaching changes: Minnesota Vikings

NFL Coaching Change with fantasy football impact

2021 NFL coaching changes: Minnesota Vikings

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Long-time NFL coach Gary Kubiak, 59, recently retired for the second time, leading Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer in the hunt for his third offensive coordinator in as many offseasons.

There was more or less no change from Kevin Stefanski in 2019 calling plays to Kubiak last year. The latter was on the staff as an advisor to Stefanski in ’19, and the 2020 Cleveland Browns success illustrates Stefanski learned a thing or two. The system built by Kubiak throughout the years has been prolific for fantasy purposes, especially at the running back position. Therefore, it should come as no surprise Zimmer wanted to keep things as close to unchanged as possible, which is what helped lead to the hiring of Klint Kubiak, Gary’s 33-year-old son, as the natural replacement at offensive coordinator.

The younger Kubiak was hired by Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier in 2013 after he spent three seasons at Texas A&M as the offensive quality control coach (2010-11) and inside receivers coach (2012) as a graduate assistant. Kubiak was the assistant wide receivers and offensive quality control coach for two seasons before returning to college in 2015 as Kansas’ wide receivers coach.

The 2016 season saw him join his father coaching the Denver Broncos, where Klint would spend three years as an offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach. Zimmer hired both Kubiaks in 2019, and Klint served as Kirk Cousins’ positional coach the past two years.

Coaching tendencies

Since we have zero to go on as far as Klint Kubiak’s style as a playcaller, the best we have to with which to work is his experience learning from his father. Klint grew up in this offense, being immersed in the details of a successful run-driven, West Coast system from the time he was a kid.

The past five seasons have positioned him well to learn on the job within his father’s system. Therefore, we’ll rehash what was covered in the 2020 preview of Gary Kubiak assuming the playcalling role in the Twin Cities:

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 fading superstar in his last hurrah, 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
2020
MIN
OC
4
11
23
8
5
8
4
17
27
14
6
20

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 on any team. They operate with short-area routes and clearouts to keep defenses scrambling to cover the proper level.

Also working Klint’s favor is long-time colleagues of his father — offensive line coach Rick Dennison and tight ends coach Brad Pariani — continue on with the coaching staff in 2021.

Personnel changes

Minnesota has no primary starters on offense ready to hit the free-agent market in March. The Vikings currently sit roughly $8.54 million over the salary cap, but the catch here is we don’t yet know the actual 2021 cap figure from the league. It is believed to go down, possibly into the $175-185 million range after being $198.2 million in 2020.

There are many ways to get below the cap without a wholesale roster purge, and $8.54 million is hardly problematic when looking around the league. For perspective, New Orleans is in the worst shape at $70,796,484 in the hole.

According to Spotrac.com, Cousins carries a team-high $31 million cap charge. He could be restructured via extension as he faces a $45 million cap hit in 2022.

The third-highest 2021 cap hit is left tackle Riley Reiff at $16.45 million. He is coming off of arguably his best year but would save the team $11.75 million if he’s released.

Minnesota will pocket $5.1 million in savings if (when) tight end Kyle Rudolph gets the ax, and a decision will be forced on what to do with safety Harrison Smith’s deal. He enters the final year of his contract and would save the Vikes $10.25 million should he be shown the door.

Fantasy football takeaway

Expect much of the same from this offense in terms of its design and implementation. We cannot possibly know whether Kubiak’s tempo will be different, or if he’s inclined to play it safe in risky situations. Either way, look for Dalvin Cook to remain a workhorse, and the team will work in play-action passing to exploit defenses choking up to the line. This offense ranked sixth in rushing attempt percentage (47.6), toting the rock 29 times, on average. Cook is entrenched as one of the top five fantasy backs, especially in PPR.

Wideouts Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are two of the better fantasy football commodities at the position, and the latter’s breakthrough rookie season could have him poised to once again displace Thielen in 2021 as Cousins’ primary target. Thielen will be 31 before the season begins, and his 2020 value was overly dependent upon finding the end zone (14 TDs in 15 games), whereas Jefferson outpaced him in targets, receptions and yardage as a rook.

As for Cousins himself, he’s safely drafted as a matchup play for most settings after an 11th-place finish among his positional peers in 2020, although there is merit in choosing him as a late-round starter. The veteran finished ’20 on a heater, tossing three touchdowns in five of his last seven games and six of the final nine.

The tight end position is expected to feature third-year man Irv Smith Jr. with Rudolph’s likely release. Smith has flashed more than once in his career and should be viewed as one to watch leading up to draft season. A low-volume passing attack with two prominent receivers and a pass-catching running back in Cook makes it tough to bank on Smith being a weekly contributor, however.

All things considered, Kubiak’s system should keep Minnesota’s core playmakers in position to be quality fantasy options, especially if the defense continues to take its lumps.

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