Fantasy Sleepers

Can Vikings Adam Thielen Become a Weekly Fantasy Starter in 2017?

Adam Thielen Fantasy 2017

Going into the 2016 NFL season, there were many questions regarding the Minnesota Vikings wide receivers. Could second-year man Stefon Diggs build on a promising rookie season? Would first round draft pick Laquon Treadwell make an immediate impact? Would this be the year that the light bulb went on for Cordarrelle Patterson? And last, and probably least…who the hell is Adam Thielen?

At the end of the season, these questions all had answers. Yes, Diggs could build on his rookie year. He finished with 903 yards in his 13 games. No, Treadwell would have no impact at all. He saw just three targets and reeled in one catch. If by “light bulb coming on” we meant Patterson “became a league average 4th receiver, then yes it did. As for Adam Thielen, he became an essential parts of the Vikings passing game. Coming into the season with just 20 receptions in his first two seasons with the team, Thielen exploded for 69 grabs on 92 targets for a team-leading 967 yards, with five scores to boot. His 202-yard performance against the Green Bay Packers in Week 16 was the third highest single-game yardage total in team history. But as good as he was, can he become a cornerstone of fantasy rosters for 2017?

High Volume, High Opportunity

In his favor is his chemistry with quarterback Sam Bradford. Indeed, the 10.1 average yards per attempt that Bradford enjoys when targeting Adam Thielen is the highest of any player Bradford has targeted at least 50 times in his career. Only Diggs among wide receivers, with a 19% market share, saw a higher percentage of total team targets than Thielen.

RUSH YARDS 1205 32nd
RUSH TDs 9 28th

He came in at 16%. The increased emphasis placed on the passing game no doubt aided Thielen, as the Vikings were forced to take to the air more than they would probably have liked. The main reason for this? The dreadful nature of their rushing attack.

[the_ad id=”66786″]For the record, Adrian Peterson has had seven seasons in his career with more individual rushing yards than the 1205 the Vikings managed last season. He has eight with more rushing scores and only been below 3.2 yards per carry once. This led to the Vikings passing the ball 588 times, the 12th most of any team in the league. If the Vikings can improve their offensive line, allowing them to become more balanced on offense, these passing numbers would be expected to drop. But offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, as an OC or head coach, has only two seasons in which his team was in the top ten in terms of rushing attempts. By contrast, he has four seasons when his quarterbacks attempted at least the 6th most pass attempts.

Redzone Weapons

The lifeblood of any fantasy player, aside from massive yardage totals, is of course touchdowns. The Vikings, in 2016, were 22nd regarding the number of their drives that saw them get into the red zone. They saw just over half of their red zone possessions converted into touchdowns. Despite seeing just 13% of the Vikings red zone targets, Adam Thielen did score three touchdowns on his eight catches inside the opposition 20. Just over 5% of his overall yards came inside the red zone, but three of his five touchdowns were scored there. If the Vikings can get into the red zone more often next season, and Rudolph (33% market share) doesn’t hog all the work, Thielen could find pay dirt quite regularly.

Changing Picture at Wide Receiver

The flux at the wide receiver position is another factor that could increase the opportunities for Adam Thielen. Jarius Wright is expected to be moving on this offseason, and Charles Johnson should face serious competition from Treadwell this year. All the while Patterson wants to be the next Ty Montgomery if reports are to be believed. This leaves Diggs and Thielen atop the totem pole for the Vikings, at least at wide receiver. Tight end Kyle Rudolph saw a team-high 132 targets last season and has a kinship with Bradford even greater than that he shares with Thielen. Diggs should also be fully fit this season, after missing several games in 2016. Without Diggs for company, Thielen saw on average nearly two more targets a game and averaged almost a point and a half more in PPR formats.

2017 Fantasy Outlook

There is much to like regarding Thielen’s situation with the Vikings as we head into the new season. But it is hard to imagine him breaking into the top tier of receivers in 2017, especially with Sam Bradford as his quarterback. However, he could certainly force his way into the WR3 conversation, with occasional border darts into WR2 airspace. According to Fantasy Football Calculator (yes, believe it or not, some people are already mock drafting!), in standard 12 team leagues Thielen is not even being drafted. I would certainly expect this to chance in the coming months. Thielen will, at the very least, make an appearance in the double digit rounds. If he is in the fantasy equivalent of the green room in any of my leagues come rounds 9-13 (14 and 15 are DST and kicker, that’s never going to change), I’ll be snapping him up. Just don’t expect him to carry you to any league championships. He’ll need help.

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