How Will Alexander Mattison Fare in Fantasy as the Vikings' Lead Back?

Nicholas Vazquez
Nicholas Vazquez@nickvaz
How Will Alexander Mattison Fare in Fantasy as the Vikings' Lead Back?

We're a month and change away from the NFL season starting, so let's get up to speed on some fantasy football developments that happened in the offseason.

One of the noteworthy changes was with the Minnesota Vikings as they made a big move in the offseason, one that had a significant impact on fantasy.

Dalvin Cook was cut on June 9th for salary cap reasons, and that's left Alexander Mattison to likely handle most of the work.

How should we value Mattison in drafts now that he is a starting running back?

Ranking and average draft position (ADP) data for half-PPR scoring.

Alexander Mattison Fantasy Football Projection

Projections via numberFire.

2023 Projection: 1,094 rushing yards, 7.73 rushing TDs, 30 receptions, 198 receiving yards, 1.56 receiving TDs (199.94 half-PPR points)

numberFire Positional Projection: RB20

Alexander Mattison Fantasy Football Outlook

Past Success in Starter's Role

Mattison has been in the NFL since 2019, spending four seasons with the Vikings. Minnesota clearly believed in his abilities, as they gave him a two-year contract extension in the offseason for $7 million. With the current state of the running back position, that is fairly significant, putting Mattison's contract 21st at the position in terms of total cash.

Cook missed games over the past few seasons, which gave Mattison some opportunities to start. He played in six games without Cook over the past three seasons and averaged 19.5 carries and 4.5 targets in those games. He turned those opportunities into an average of 18.5 half-PPR points per game. He also had a game with more than 100 rushing yards in which Cook exited early.

In short, Mattison has proven that he's able to be effective in fantasy when given the workload.

When taking a look at Next Gen Stats, Mattison's profile is a bit of a mixed bag. In 2020, he had the best rush yards over expected percentage in the NFL. But 2021 was rough for him from that perspective, as he was the seventh-worst by that metric as well as eighth-worst in rush yards over expected per attempt.

However, as far as fantasy goes, efficiency doesn't matter as much as volume. If Mattison gets the majority of the running back opportunities for a Vikings offense that should be pretty good, he can clearly be an effective part of fantasy teams.

The Vikings' Go-To Guy

Sans Cook, with no free agents brought in and no high draft capital spent on a running back, it looks like it will be Mattison's job to lose.

With the new coaching staff in 2022, the Vikings' offense really took a different approach. They went from a pass-to-run ratio of 1.41 in 2021 to 1.78 in 2022, the third-highest rate in the NFL. Minnesota has become a much more analytically inclined team with their new front office and coaching staff, which does mean running the ball less often.

But that doesn't mean Mattison is doomed to be a dud in fantasy. Cook was the half-PPR RB10 last year in this offense, despite recording -0.08 rush yards over expected per attempt. As we just talked about -- volume is king in fantasy.

What would help Mattison's overall outlook is if he got involved in the passing game a bit more. A year ago, Cook saw a target on 14.6% percent of his routes, and Mattison was targeted on just 8.8% of his routes.

One area where the Vikings definitely need to improve is on the offensive line. They struggled at run-blocking last season, getting stuffed at the league's second-highest rate. They also were the least successful team on power runs.

The line isn't totally helpless in terms of talent. They at least rank in the top half of the league, according to PFF. With a year in this new scheme under offensive-minded head coach Kevin O'Connell, perhaps the running game will be more in sync this fall.

Cook saw 44 red-zone rushing attempts last season, the fourth-most in the league. He also saw 10.4% of the team's red-zone targets. If Mattison gets most of these opportunities, that's fantastic for his fantasy value.

The remainder of the Vikings' running back depth is filled with unknowns. After Mattison, they have Ty Chandler and Kene Nwangwu, who have combined for 34 touches from scrimmage in the NFL. Minnesota used a seventh-round pick on Dewayne McBride in the 2023 draft, but it's fairly unlikely that he takes a huge chunk of the work from Mattison this coming year.

Where Should Mattison Be Drafted in 2023?

Currently, Mattison is being drafted as the RB23 and the 57th player overall, according to FantasyPros. This likely will go up over the next few weeks, especially if the Vikings don't add another back.

He's being drafted behind Dalvin Cook, who is still without a team at this time. Cook was the fourth-worst back in terms of rush yards over expected percentage in the NFL last season, and it's hard to imagine him signing with a team that will make him a featured back at this point (barring an injury to a current starter).

Some other RBs going above Mattison -- such as Dameon Pierce, Miles Sanders and Cam Akers -- are all likely to lead their team in opportunities. However, they also all very likely to be on worse offenses than the Vikings' attack.

Pierce and Sanders will be on teams with rookie quarterbacks. Akers was out of favor last season for the Los Angeles Rams, being a healthy scratch twice. The Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans and Rams are all forecasted to win under eight games, per the NFL win totals listed at FanDuel Sportsbook. These players don't have flawless passing-game profiles that make them a lock to see targets in negative game scripts.

Another player going a bit ahead of Mattison is J.K. Dobbins. Dobbins was placed on the PUP list ahead of training camp, and his recent injury history is scary. It's difficult for any running back to stay healthy for the entire season, but drafting one in the top 50 whose health is already in question before the season starts is a tough proposition.

A case can easily be made for Mattison to be drafted ahead of at least a couple of those guys, and as such, he looks like a decent value where he is currently being selected.

At the end of the day, any back going outside the top 50 who appears to be a safe bet for lead-back volume is someone who is going to be pretty appealing. That's Mattison right now.

The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.