We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.
Vikings WR Adam Thielen possesses a combination of sure hands and route-running goodness that leaves most corners without an answer. He wasn't too far off from being the same WR last season that he was during his brilliant two-year stretch from 2017-2018 ...
- 2017: 14 yards per reception, 9 yards per target, 2.33 yards per route run
- 2018: 12.2 YPR, 9 YPT, 2.1 YPRR
- 2019: 13.9 YPR, 8.7 YPT, 1.86 YPRR
... the only difference was he had to miss time and play through a hamstring injury. Strong performances against the Saints (7-129-0) and 49ers (5-50-0) in the playoffs showed that Thielen was still operating near his peak post-injury. Note that he didn't miss a single game from 2014-2018.
Thielen averaged more PPR per game with Stefon Diggs (15) than without (13.5) over the past three seasons ... but we have a whopping six-game sample size of Thielen without the Vikings' ex-stud WR, and a much larger sample of No. 19 simply balling out. Overall, he finished as the PPR WR9 in 2017 with Case Keenum and the WR7 in 2018 after Kirk Cousins came to town.
What follows is a breakdown on what we should expect from Thielen and the Vikings' passing game next season.
Gary Kubiak is plenty capable of enabling high-end WRs
The Vikings Offense is moving forward under the exclusive tutelage of long-time offensive mastermind Gary Kubiak, who has been considered a run-game whisperer for the majority of his career.
The presence of Kubiak was fantastic news for Dalvin Cook and company in 2019, but we shouldn't doubt his ability to also enable a high-end fantasy WR just because of Diggs' rather-pedestrian team-high volume. The veteran play-caller has largely enabled a legit WR1 wherever he's gone.
Overall, Kubiak enabled a top-12 PPR WR in 12-of-23 seasons as a head coach or offensive coordinator, and a top-24 WR in 19-of-23 seasons (with two of the four exceptions being due to injury). All in all his No. 1 WR averaged a monstrous 138 targets per season.
This sort of target floor is borderline erotic when it comes to PPR production. Obviously 2020 is a new year and we can't solely base projections on past data, but even 130 targets would be amazing for Thielen's fantasy stock. There have been 149 instances of a WR getting 130-plus targets in a season since 2010; their average PPR rank was 11.1, median rank was 10, and only 2014 Vincent Jackson (WR33) as well as 2012 Larry Fitzgerald (WR32) finished outside of the position's top-30 contributors.
It's clear Thielen boasts anyone's idea of a fantasy-friendly floor/ceiling combination entering next season.
Helping matters is the reality that Thielen doesn't have much competition for snaps or targets.
The Vikings aren't exactly overflowing with talented WRs
The Vikings have roughly six additional WRs and TEs vying for Kirk Cousins' affection entering next season:
- Justin Jefferson: The Vikings' first-round WR has less competition than most of his peers for a starting spot. The talented contested-catch artist has an underrated chance to lead the Vikings in receiving scores thanks to his big-play ability and potential to dominate from the slot. Still, I'm hesitant in expecting too much from pretty much any rookie pass-catcher ahead of next season. 2020 presents a unique challenge due to the COVID-19 outbreak. We're moving forward under the assumption that the season takes place, but at the very least it seems likely these rookie WRs won't get a chance to build chemistry with their QBs until late in the summer at the earliest. When in doubt, it's probably best to lower your year-one expectations for most if not all rookie receivers.
- Tajae Sharpe: The former fifth-round pick averaged 31 catches for 389 yards and 2.7 receiving scores in three healthy seasons with the Titans from 2016-2019. It's hard to see Sharpe emerging as anything more than a solid complementary option; he's surpassed 50 receiving yards in just 9-of-50 games.
- Bisi Johnson: The Vikings' 2019 seventh-round pick never reached even 45 yards in a game last season despite receiving a starting role while Thielen was sidelined. Don't count on him demanding much more than some snaps in three-WR sets.
- Chad Beebe: The former undrafted free agent has posted a 6-109-0 line over the past two seasons in six total games. The biggest impact Beebe has made is pushing Thielen out of the slot for stretches, something that we'll need to monitor for Jefferson. Still, there's a low target projection for Beebe even if he manages to nab a starting spot.
- K.J. Osborn: Player Profiler compares the Vikings' 2020 fifth-round pick to ... Bisi Johnson. The former Miami receiver possesses an above-average combination of size (6-foot-0 and 203-pounds) and speed (4.48-second 40-yard dash), but expecting much production in 2020 is a pipe dream in this run-first offense.
- Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith: Rudolph posted a 39-367-6 line on 48 targets last season. Smith went for 36-311-2 on 47 targets. Rudolph (361 routes) was on the field a bit more often than Smith (322), although clearly this is a situation that likely won't foster much of a ceiling. Neither is exactly worthy of a late-round fantasy pick, although an injury to either could produce a true No. 1 TE option. This is basically a poor man's version of the Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert partnership; a veteran that isn't exactly falling off being pushed by a rising and talented younger stud.
Cook (63 targets in 2019) will also assuredly be plenty involved in the passing game.
Weirder things have happened, but it's simply difficult to look at this roster and come away with any conclusion other than Thielen is about to be absolutely fed targets.
Thielen needs to be drafted as a true WR1
One concern for Thielen ahead of the 2020 season is how he'll respond to life as the Vikings' undisputed No. 1 WR. There's an argument to be made that increased attention from defenses could be problematic. Ultimately, I believe we've seen enough general greatness from the Vikings' long-time stud to not worry too much about how he'll deal with more responsibility.
Thielen is currently going off the board as the WR14 in best-ball formats. I believe the big-five receivers are easily Michael Thomas, Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, Tyreek Hill and Julio Jones. After this there's an argument that Thielen could be next. The likes of Mike Evans (Chris Godwin), Kenny Golladay (Marvin Jones), Amari Cooper (Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb), Cooper Kupp (Robert Woods), Odell Beckham (Jarvis Landry) and D.J. Moore (Christian McCaffrey) all have significantly more competition for their team's target share.
Fantasy football is about chasing opportunity, not talent. Luckily this seems to be one of very few situations where we can get a discount on a proven-talented player primed to get an elite-level workload. Don't be afraid to take a chance on the Vikings' No. 1 WR. Even if you want to slide in someone like Allen Robinson or one of the aforementioned talents ahead of Thielen, it's clear his WR2-ADP isn't properly weighing his fabulous floor/ceiling combo.