News & Analysis

You won't find top-25 fantasy WRs in Minnesota

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 23: Stefon Diggs #14 and Sam Bradford #8 of the Minnesota Vikings during warmups before taking on the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on October 23, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

(“Today’s Crazy Fantasy Stat” is an occasional offseason offering from PFF that highlights something that catches our eye and aids in our preparation for the 2017 fantasy season.)

Jonathan Sanchez was so tantalizing. He was a left-handed pitcher who came up with the Giants in 2006 and in short order was striking out everybody, back before everybody was striking out everybody. All he needed to do was get a little better control over the strike zone, and he was gonna be something. He threw a no-hitter, won a World Series, struck out 200 in a season. It was gonna happen.

Only, he never did. Sanchez was with San Francisco until 2011 before bouncing around, including a stint with the supposed pitcher-whisperer pitching coach Ray Searage in Pittsburgh. He was in the minor leagues as recently as March, but his major-league career ended with 5.0 walks per nine innings and all the unrealized potential.

Minnesota Vikings QB Sam Bradford isn’t Jonathan Sanchez. He’s a better quarterback than Sanchez ever was a pitcher. But every season, we get new reasons why this year might be the year Bradford puts it all together. It was going to be 2010, when he was the first overall pick, only it was to the Rams, where talent goes to die. It was going to be 2014, with a bevy of developing weapons in St. Louis, before he tore his ACL. It was going to be 2015, with Chip Kelly and the Eagles, but the team disappointed. Maybe it wasn’t going to be 2016 in Minnesota right away, as he just joined the team in preseason, but he was going to have the job without question with weapons.

And now, the talk surrounds the idea that Bradford gets a second straight year under the same offensive coordinator, with elite-adjacent tight end Kyle Rudolph, two competent receivers in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and a very accommodating schedule. He’s not getting talk as a QB1, but he’s getting murmurs of “interesting,” and Thielen, Diggs, and Rudolph are all getting varying levels of hype.

So here I am being the cold-water thrower.

It’s certainly possible Bradford will finally be the Bradford everybody hoped for. I can’t refute any of the reasons for hype. But here are some other things to consider:

  • The Vikings haven’t had a wide receiver finish in the top 25 in fantasy scoring since Percy Harvin finished seventh in 2011. That’s five years with no top-25 receiver. Every other team has had at least one top-25 receiver in the years since. Every other team but Tennessee has had at least two. The Vikings’ best receiver has had an average finishing rank of 38.6 in fantasy scoring the last five years; only the Rams, at 38.8, have been worse.
  • On top of that, only one Vikings receiver has finished better than 38th in the last five years, and that was Adam Thielen’s 26th-place finish last year. Jeff Ratcliffe developed a fantasy metric this offseason — expected production — that indicated Thielen is one of the league’s top candidates for regression in 2017.
  • Bradford has produced exactly one top-25 receiver in his seven-year career: Jordan Matthews in 2015, when he finished 19th. Matthews averaged 8.7 fantasy points a game that season, but only 6.5 through Week 14. Every week counts, but let’s just say Matthews didn’t play like a top-25 receiver through all of 2015.
  • Bradford himself has never finished higher than 19th in fantasy scoring (2010 and 2012), and in both of those seasons he finished even worse in fantasy points per game (26th and 21st, respectively).
  • Bradford set a career-high in adjusted completion percentage (PFF’s measure that corrects for dropped passes, throwaways, and spikes) in 2016 (at 80.9, second-highest of the PFF era). Unadjusted, his completion percentage of 71.6 set an NFL record. Despite that, he was 24th in fantasy points per game.
  • The Vikings don’t have Adrian Peterson anymore, but kept Jerick McKinnon around and added Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray this offseason. The Vikings don’t have an elite offensive line, but it did come in 14th in the PFF preseason offensive line rankings. Maybe nobody will put up a vintage Peterson season, but the team will have a running game that matters.

Maybe I’m a spoilsport. But I see a quarterback who has never made a star, on a team that almost never has stars, coming off a season that saw him performing as the best possible version of himself and still finishing well out of fantasy consideration, with a running game that has three mouths to feed.

The Vikings sneaked into the playoffs in 2016 with a top-flight defense and a just-good-enough offense. Even with a second year (first full year) under an offensive coordinator, it’s hard to imagine there’s enough there for Bradford — or any of his receivers — to have serious fantasy relevance.

Diggs is going 33rd among receivers in early ADP, per Fantasy Football Calculator. Thielen is going 52nd. Any time you see any ADP, remember that it’s an average, and there plenty examples of that player going higher. This is insane, but per that same site, Diggs’ high in draft picks is in the late first round. (I’m not going to give advice based on the idea that Diggs could be a first-rounder, because yes, insane, but I just wanted to note a weird fact.)

Per those ADP numbers, neither receiver is going as a starter. And that’s the right strategy. If you want to take a flyer on the idea that Bradford can finally realize that storied potential, sure, you could do worse. But there’s no member of this offense — with the possible exception of shallow-position Kyle Rudolph — who needs to enter 2017 as a fantasy starter.

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