2022 NFL coaching changes: Minnesota Vikings

2022 NFL coaching changes: Minnesota Vikings

NFL Coaching Change with fantasy football impact

2022 NFL coaching changes: Minnesota Vikings


The Mike Zimmer era came to an end after eight mostly pedestrian years that resulted in a 2-3 postseason record with the pinnacle of success being a losing appearance in the 2017 conference title round.

Along with Zimmer’s dismissal, long-time executive Rick Spielman also was shown the door. He served as vice president of player personnel from 2006-11 and general manager the past 10 seasons.

An executive with the Cleveland Browns, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was hired to become Spielman’s replacement, and his first order of business was to find Zimmer’s successor. A little more than two weeks later, Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell was tabbed as the next head coach of the Vikings in mid-February. Veteran defensive coordinator Ed Donatell has been hired to command the other side of the ball.

O’Connell brought Rams tight ends coach and passing game coordinator Wes Phillips with him to the Twin Cities as the Vikes’ OC, but the new head coach confirmed he will indeed call the plays. It is expected Phillips will help with game planning and play design.

Prior to his coaching days, O’Connell was a quarterback for San Diego State and a third-round selection by the New England Patriots in the 2008 NFL Draft. His playing career sent him to multiple teams around the NFL, ending with just six career passes thrown and none after undergoing shoulder reconstruction prior to the start of his third season.

Coaching tendencies

In 2015, Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine hired O’Connell to teach the quarterback position. A year later the San Francisco 49ers would employ him as an offensive assistant. O’Connell found his way to Washington’s staff as QBs coach under Jay Gruden, a position he’d hold for two seasons before becoming the offensive coordinator in 2019. A year later, he was the Rams’ 34-year-old OC.

O’Connell began his coaching career in a West Coast offense and stayed there throughout his seven seasons. While the McVay version is more modified than the John DeFilippo version O’Connell first learned under in Cleveland, McVay came up under the Gruden brothers’ system that was more traditional. Considering the wrinkles McVay has put into his offense, it’s unclear just how much of O’Connell’s personal influence we’ll see in his system. Either way, the base offense is an NFL staple, so don’t count on seeing something revolutionary. McVay introduced an increase in play-action passing, motions, jet sweeps, reverses, and general trickery, but the core elements remained the same.

Much has been made of his lack of play-calling experience, but the same was said about Matt LaFleur when Tennessee hired him to be its OC after not having called plays under McVay. The same can be said for Zac Taylor when Cincinnati hired him as head coach. O’Connell briefly called plays for Washington in 2019 after Gruden’s dismissal following an 0-5 start.

Largely, not a great deal will change for the Vikings. They’ve run a WCO for years now, and the biggest modifications likely will be verbiage of play-calling and its tempo. The crux of the McVay version is a heavy reliance on play-action passing and throwing to the slot position, but it all stems from a capable running game. There also will be some of the McVay creative influence involved that is tough to forecast, but we saw Robert Woods go from being an unheralded possession guy to a dangerous weapon rushing and receiving. O’Connell’s role as passing game coordinator in the development of Cooper Kupp also cannot be overstated.

Personnel changes

Only four teams have less salary cap space at the time of writing, and it will require Minnesota to make some decisions to get under the limit in order to even sign its rookie class. Some of the freedom will come via restructuring, but the team is hamstrung by Kirk Cousins‘ obscene $45 million cap hit, which is 21.4 percent of the overall cap. He’s in the final year of his deal and is expected to be the starter, but whether Cousins is extended is of great concern. Doing so will free up serious cap space.

Other contractual situations to monitor include: Danielle Hunter, Adam Thielen, Harrison Smith, and Eric Kendricks, among a few others.

In terms of impending free agents, the offense is not facing the loss of any key component. Tight end Tyler Conklin was thrust into the starting lineup this past season and fared well enough to deserve a mention, but he’s expendable and won’t be an expensive player to re-sign, if desired.

Defense could add some fresh faces as veterans Anthony Barr, Patrick Peterson, Sheldon Richardson, Xavier Woods, Mackensie Alexander and Everson Griffen all are poised to hit the market if Minnesota cannot reach agreements with them prior to March 14.

Fantasy football takeaway

Provided Cousins has the tandem of Thielen and Justin Jefferson, he should pick up where he left off in fantasy as this defense has holes to fill and will force the offense into frequent passing situations. In 2021, the 33-year-old accounted for as many touchdown passes as his years on this planet, and Cousins topped 350 fantasy points for the third time in four seasons with Minnesota. He finished QB9 in ’21, and is a low-end starter over the course of the upcoming year, but better profiles as a top backup meant to deploy according to matchup worthiness.

Dalvin Cook is coming off a down year by his lofty standards, finishing with an average of 16 PPR points per game over 13 contests. The biggest letdown of his season came in the TD column, finishing with 11 fewer than the prior year and down seven from 2019’s 13 trips to paydirt. The system is ideal for Cook, and as long as he can avoid the injury bug, expect another stellar season from a proven playmaker still in his prime.

Alexander Mattison remains a must-handcuff for Cook owners but also has stash value independent of drafting him due to the Florida Stater’s injury history.

Jefferson is a WR1 lock and arguably has a chance to outperform everyone at his position. At a minimum, expect top-five results. He won’t escape too many first rounds in fantasy drafts.

Thielen is coming off a down year and remains overly reliant on finding the end zone. Entering his age-32 season, injuries and slowing down are notable worries but shouldn’t deter gamers from drafting him as a low-end WR2.

No. 3 receiver K.J. Osborn flashed several times in 2021 and also vanished in several contests, which is understandable with all of the talent in this offense. He’s no more than a late-round flier in deeper settings, but if something were to happen to Thielen again, the young receiver is a must-own waiver target.

Tight end remains unsettled. Just know that the system uses it when needed as a receiver (see guys like Tyler Higbee/Gerald Everett under McVay), but no one is likely to have a TE1 season as long as Jefferson, Thielen and Cook are healthy for the majority of games. In a nutshell, there is utility to be found, but knowing exactly when to play the guy will be difficult.

Despite new coaches all around, Minnesota benefits from system and personnel continuity.


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