49ERS // VIKINGS OVERVIEW
This game is going to draw a decent amount of hype and attention from NFL fans — with another long look at Jimmy Garoppolo in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, with a new backfield for the 49ers, with Dalvin Cook returning to the field, and with Kirk Cousins taking his first regular season snaps with the Vikings — but this game is less appealing from a fantasy perspective, for a variety of reasons.
Jimmy Garoppolo is really good. Kyle Shanahan is really good. The 49ers are going to have a really good offense this year. But it is difficult to overstate how good this Vikings defense was in 2017. No team allowed fewer yards per pass attempt than Minnesota. Only the Jaguars allowed fewer passing yards per game. Only four teams allowed fewer yards per carry than the Vikings last year. Only Philly allowed fewer rushing yards per game. Minnesota allowed only 15.8 points per game last year. The league average was 21.7 points per game. This means that Minnesota held opponents to 72.7% of the league average. The Vikings allowed 19 points at home to the Saints in Week 1 last year. After that, they never allowed more than 17 points at home. They held the Lions to 14 points at home last year and the Rams to seven. I will be surprised if the 49ers crack their Vegas-implied total (20.0, as of this writing), which seems to have been set aggressively to account for the public’s excitement of that team. (The line actually opened even higher, and has been bet down.)
VIKINGS RUN OFFENSE
San Francisco finished seventh in the NFL last year in yards allowed per carry, though their long losing streak did lead to them yielding the 11th-most rushing yards per game. They allowed the fourth-most receiving yards to running backs as well, though they otherwise were fairly non-notable in terms of running back production, and we should head into this game viewing them as a neutral to slightly-above-average matchup for running backs.
“Neutral to slightly-above-average” would be enough for us to be excited about Dalvin Cook this week if he had a guaranteed workload (he costs under 13% of the salary cap on all three sites, and has explosive, talent-driven upside), but there are some question marks heading into this game, as the Vikings mothballed him in the preseason, and there is plenty of chatter — from both beat writers and Vikings coaches — that Latavius Murray will continue to have a role. It should not surprise us if a 26-carry game for the Vikings turns into 16 carries for Cook and 10 carries for Murray — with Murray likely to take at least some of the goal-line work as well. Volume is our closest ally in cash games, which takes both guys out of the discussion, but Cook retains his monster ceiling if his workload unexpectedly spikes, or if his talent allows him to rip off a couple big plays. Murray is a low-floor, touchdown-dependent play.
VIKINGS PASS OFFENSE
Speaking of volume: Only four teams threw the ball at a lower rate of frequency last year than the Vikings, as they were perfectly happy to play legendary defense, take a lead, and bleed the clock dry (Minnesota ranked 25th in pace of play last year).
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the Vikings’ offense is fairly straightforward, from a “usage” perspective, with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs accounting for nearly all of the action at wide receiver. Last year, Diggs had two games of double-digit targets, and eight games with six or fewer targets; Thielen had seven games of double-digit targets, and four games with six or fewer targets. The complication here — heading into Week 1 — is that reports out of training camp have Diggs as Cousins’ preferred target, and with Pat Shurmur gone we are introduced to even more uncertainty in the play-calling and target distribution. That’s enough to make both of these guys risky plays in cash games, but each guy has 25-point upside in tourneys, with 100-yard, two-touchdown potential. San Francisco’s secondary looked worse on paper last year than they actually were, due to a big boost in the touchdown department, but they are a below-average unit in most categories, including catch percentage, air yards, average depth of target, and expected yards per target.
San Fan’s best defensive performances came against tight ends, as they ranked fifth in DVOA against the position and seventh in yards allowed. That should not take Kyle Rudolph off the board, as he will get his four to seven targets in every game (he finished below that range only five times last year, and above that range only twice), and his red zone role is secure. This matchup does lower expectations, however, and makes him a bet-on-touchdown option.
This game is much more appealing to me from a real-life perspective than from a DFS perspective, and I will be watching it closely to see how this new 49ers offense is presenting itself and to see how this new Vikings offense is presenting itself. I will have no exposure to the 49ers, and I’ll almost certainly have some Vikings exposure in tourneys. The “uncertainty” on several levels for Minnesota removes them from Core Roster consideration for me, but the ceiling remains intact, and I expect at least one of Cook / Thielen / Diggs to post 85+ yards and a touchdown. The talent is awesome on all three guys; the only question mark is the volume — or, more accurately, the distribution of volume with a new quarterback and play-caller, creating more risk than these guys will have for us a few weeks from now when things have started to shake out more fully.
*UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 2 // Full “Updates” List
Sadly, Jerick McKinnon is out for the year with a torn ACL — which he tragically tore on the last play of practice, making a cut in open space. From a micro, Week 1 perspective, this changes absolutely nothing for me. If this were a midseason week with hardly any value, maybe we could convince ourselves that Alfred Morris or Matt Breida could be a difference-maker; but with plenty of strong value to like, I will not be rostering either guy in one of the toughest possible matchups.
From a macro perspective, I expect this season to begin with Alfred Morris in a two-down role, with Breida taking over on third downs and obvious passing downs. But there is a reason I have about 40% exposure to Breida in Best Ball drafts: about a month ago, multiple 49ers beat writers were speculating that Breida was actually going to win the starting job over McKinnon. This guy is good, and he saw 126 touches last year as a rookie behind Carlos Hyde (who quietly had a very strong season — ranking in the top five in the NFL in avoided tackles). Breida then hurt his shoulder and missed most of camp, and the hype fizzled, but he is going to be fully healthy for the start of the season, and we shouldn’t be surprised if he quickly wins a good 60% to 65% of the running back touches in San Francisco.