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Kevin O’Connell Hired as Vikings Head Coach: Dynasty Impacts

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The Vikings officially hired Kevin O’Connell as their new head coach. What will this mean for their offensive players in dynasty fantasy football?


The former NFL QB and Washington and Los Angeles Rams offensive assistant, Kevin O’Connell, is the new Minnesota Vikings head coach. What might the offense look like in 2022? What should you do with the offensive players in Minnesota? Let’s dive into one of the most interesting off-season hirings.

Changes in Philosophy?

Since 2010, the Vikings have had three head coaches, Leslie Frazier, Mike Zimmer, and now Kevin O’Connell. Not since 2009 have they had an offensive-minded head coach. O’Connell is a young hire (36) and the first by new analytically driven general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. If you liked the aggressiveness of Brandon Staley with the Chargers last year, expect more of the same with Kevin O’Connell.

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O’Connell started coaching in 2015 with the Browns and 2016 with the 49ers. He then rose to prominence with Washington in 2017-2019 before joining the Rams in 2020. His first coordinator season was 2019 in Washington. The first thing to point out is the 2017 season. He was the quarterback coach of Washington and worked closely with Kirk Cousins in his final season there.

From a scheme perspective, O’Connell learned from Jay Gruden in Washington and Sean McVay in Los Angeles. Expect him to pull from the influence of McVay and Shanahan in running the outside zone scheme. The Rams also ran the most 11 personnel (three WRs, one RB, one TE) in the NFL at 85% of their snaps in 2021 (Vikings were at 47%) and tended to throw from it at 63% of those snaps.

What to do with current Vikings personnel?

Buy

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Irv Smith Jr., TE (Age 23)

It’s still super early this offseason, but I’ll hop right back on the bandwagon for an Irv Smith Jr. breakout in 2022. Last season Tyler Conklin, filled in the starting TE role for the Vikings. He was a borderline starter at TE, finishing 16th at the position in points and seeing nearly 90 targets. Now he’s an unrestricted free agent, and while he might return, he’d slide in behind Smith on the depth chart.

The season Conklin just had is the floor for Smith though. Smith has been much better on a per catch basis, averaging 8.5 yards per catch in 2020 compared to Conklin’s 6.8 in 2021. Smith has also had a better nose for the end zone. He scored seven times on 90 career targets compared to four scores on 130 for Conklin. Buy in now before the 2022 breakout and Smith jumps into top 10 TE territory.

K.J. Osborn, WR (Age 24)

K.J. Osborn took advantage of Adam Thielen and Irv Smith Jr. missing time and made himself an option for the future of the Vikings. Not a household name, Osborn had some very solid games throughout the year for Minnesota. As highlighted earlier, about 11 personnel, was specifically mentioned that the Vikings’ personnel groupings are likely to change next year and benefit another WR option.

I believe the favorite for that boost is Osborn after showing what he could do this year. A new GM and coaches mean the young players might not have been their selections so what you do on the field matters. While he wasn’t elite at any one thing, he did show a nose for the end zone, scoring seven times on the year. He’s a cheap option who could pay off, especially if Thielen is cut.

Sell

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Adam Thielen, WR (Age 31)

Let me caveat this by saying he’s not a must-sell and will likely still hold solid value for a contender in 2022. Adam Thielen has struggled to stay on the field recently though, and it only gets worse with age. Even with a down year in 2019, he’s been a WR1 or WR2 on a per-game basis in four of the last five seasons. That trend should continue in 2022.

If the Vikings decide they need cap savings though, designating Thielen as a post-June 1st cut saves about $12.5M against the cap. It’s not a sure thing he returns, especially with multiple injuries in the last three seasons. I’d look to sell to a contender, for potentially DJ Chark or even a Chase Edmonds, and hope he lands a passing down gig somewhere.

Keep

Dalvin Cook, RB (Age 26)
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This isn’t earth-shattering advice, but Cook is generally a hold. While he’s getting older for an RB, he’s still got plenty of juice left. The outside zone scheme the Rams use is familiar to him. Former OC Klint Kubiak learned from his father and Mike Shanahan, and it’s the same running scheme that McVay and O’Connell run.

While I’m unsure about how playcalling will go, as McVay did that for LA, one thing I will say is this. Dalvin Cook will be closer to 2020 (RB3) rather than 2021 (RB15). Cook’s last three seasons he’s scored 13 times, 17 times, and 6 times. In the last 2 seasons under McVay and O’Connell, the Rams have scored 29 rushing touchdowns. 10 should be the floor barring injury.

Kirk Cousins, QB (Age 33)

Kirk Cousins is a solid NFL QB capable of taking a team to a Super Bowl. With the connection between coach and QB, expect a Cousins extension this offseason, and for the Vikings to compete in 2022. Let’s compare Matthew Stafford‘s career vs Cousins’. Cousins has a higher TD% (5.3 v 4.7), lower INT% (2.2 v 2.4), higher completion% (67 v 63), and higher yards per attempt (7.7 v 7.3).

In 2021, Stafford lept back into QB1 range for the first time since 2017 under Kevin O’Connell, when he finished as QB7 behind… Kirk Cousins (with O’Connell as QB coach). The biggest difference between the two in 2021 was pass TDs and a missed game from Cousins. I think in dynasty, Cousins might be a better, healthier, cheaper option over Stafford and is the dream QB2 in SuperFlex leagues (and a buy).

Justin Jefferson, WR (Age 22)

An obvious one to me, Jefferson is viewed as a top-two player at his position and is only 22 years old. In his two years in the league, he now has more receiving yardage than any other player in NFL history over their first two years (3,016), ahead of Odell Beckham Jr, Randy Moss, and Jerry Rice. Absolutely elite company, and he’s going to be an exciting player to watch

The only thing holding Jefferson back to date are extreme touchdown upside and passing volume. If the Vikings trend heavier towards passing, especially in the red zone, Jefferson could go full Cooper Kupp next year. The touchdowns have gone from seven to 10 in his first two seasons, and he still has to contend with Adam Thielen‘s extreme touchdown rates. Not sure another WR ranks ahead of Jefferson in 2022.

Other Options

The other WR to highlight is Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who was a rookie fifth-rounder last year and could vault up the depth charts if he shows out in the offseason. Alexander Mattison could be the handcuff one more year, but Kene Nwangwu is the one I’d target. Mattison has been up and down and Nwangwu, while raw, has upside with elite athleticism. I’m selling Conklin too, likely he’s just a backup TE somewhere.

One final name is Kellen Mond, their third-round QB from 2021 for SuperFlex leagues. If the Vikings move on from Cousins, Mond could be interesting. He is athletic and was a solid college starter. Obviously, this would be a big downgrade for all pass catchers and the offense as a whole. Same if they let Cousins leave and draft a replacement to start next season, though that feels unlikely.


Thank you for reading! Follow me on Twitter at @FFFBallers and @IDPGuys. You can read more of my work on my IDP Guys author page. Check out other NFL Offensive articles for the fantasy football offseason. Stay tuned for more content!

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