So, You Want to Draft Adam Thielen For Your Fantasy Football Team?

Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Bo Mitchell and John Tuvey have roughly a half-century of experience in the fantasy football industry between them. Scholars maintain the actual number of years could even be much higher. Co-hosts of The Fantasy Football Party Podcast, Bo and 2V concocted this series to help you stay true to your Vikings fandom while dominating your fantasy league.

Typically, 30-year-old wide receivers coming off an injury-plagued season don’t get a lot of love from the fantasy football community. That has not been the case with Adam Thielen, who remains a top 10 receiver on some analysts’ cheat sheets. And it’s definitely not the case in fantasy leagues taking place in Minnesota, where Thielen is a fan favorite and a frequent draft-day target of Vikings fans.

With that, I welcome you to the latest installment in the fantasy football series I’m rolling out with 2V. In case you missed part one, I outlined what it would take to land Kirk Cousins on your fantasy team if you’re a Vikings fan looking to avoid the conundrum of cheering both for and against him on Sundays. Then, 2V followed up with a plan to avoid drafting a quarterback that would conflict with your Vikings fandom. Be sure to check them both out.

This piece has been cut from the same cloth as my column on Cousins and is particularly useful for Vikings fans and fantasy players like my nephew, Landon, who absolutely need Thielen on their team.

If you read my piece on Cousins, you know about the importance of reading the room – knowing who you’re drafting against. Are they serious fantasy football veterans or simply a group of neighbors or coworkers looking for a fun little diversion each Sunday?

Such knowledge is more important when it comes to Cousins, since the newbies don’t necessarily adhere to the industry-sanctioned wisdom of waiting to draft a quarterback. However, if Thielen is on your “must draft” list, it’s still important to know which of your opponents are Vikings fans and therefore, also potentially targeting Thielen. You’ll need to beat them to the punch.

Sniping your fellow Thielen aficionados requires knowing his value in different formats.

The Right Value

Conventional wisdom among fantasy football analysts is clear: Wide receivers and running backs should go early in fantasy drafts. Unless you’re planning a precision execution of the “zero running back” strategy – which is tough to pull off – your first several rounds should be used for loading up on running backs and receivers. Thus, waiting on Thielen as part of a broader tactic of punting on wideouts should not a consideration.

What absolutely should be considered is your league’s format.

As mentioned above, the 2020 season will be Thielen’s age-30 campaign (his birthday is Aug. 22). It’s not the doomsday threshold it used to be for skill position players, but it’s something to keep in mind, particularly if you’re in a startup keeper or dynasty league. Wide receivers on the wrong side of 30 don’t carry the same kind of lasting value as their counterparts in their early-to-mid 20s and need to, therefore, have age baked heavily into their dynasty value.

How many impactful seasons does Thielen have left? Three? It depends on your definition of “impactful.” If there were such a prop, the Vegas over/under on his number of big seasons left might be 2.5. Vikings fans would set their purple Kool-Aid aside long enough to gleefully pound the over on that.

Industry rankings for dynasty leagues have Thielen down in the 30s this preseason. Meanwhile, he’s being ranked as at least a top 15-to-20 receiver in all other formats. And again, some have boldly ranked him in their top 10.

For the vast majority of you who are in re-draft leagues, scoring rules need to be a consideration when determining how to appropriately value Thielen. More specifically, is your league a Point-Per-Reception (PPR) or half-point PPR league? A lot of leagues now have some kind of PPR component to their scoring system and, frankly, Thielen’s value should be enhanced a little in such leagues.

With Stefon Diggs in Buffalo, Thielen will easily be the most targeted Vikings receiver this season. In his only two seasons as a full-time starter for 16 games (2017 and 2018), Thielen was targeted a combined 295 times, catching 204.

Another season of 90 receptions isn’t out of the question provided he stays healthy. Touchdown receptions, on the other hand, haven’t been as much a part of Thielen’s fantasy value. He did manage nine scores in 2018 and then had six over parts of 10 games last season. That’s a decent touchdown rate.

However, he only had 10 career touchdowns before 2018, and the Vikings have other red-zone weapons that will get plenty of touches – guys like Dalvin Cook, Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. will get their share. Thielen will get his looks, too. I’m projecting about eight scores, which isn’t shabby. However, his receptions are the primary driver of his fantasy value.

For me, Thielen isn’t a top-10 fantasy receiver heading into this season. There are too many other really good wideouts who don’t have some of his question marks regarding age, injuries and the potential absence of a viable second wide receiver in the offense to divert defensive coverage. Thielen is going to draw the top cornerbacks and frequent double-coverage until Justin Jefferson forces defensive coordinators to alter their plans.

I’m comfortable with him in my top 15 in industry drafts, though. Having said that, the object here is to find a zone in which to select Thielen if you absolutely have to have him on your team. With that approach, and assuming you’re drafting against others with the same mindset, you need to take him as one of the top 10 receivers off the board. Maybe even the top eight.

Final Answer

Thielen is being drafted anywhere from the middle of the second to the middle of the fourth round thus far if you look at his average draft position (ADP) or study mock drafts for redraft leagues. The late third-to-fourth-round picks are generally in standard leagues without any kind of PPR component to their scoring. I’ve seen him go as early as the turn from the first to the second round in PPR league snake drafts. On average, he’s been a late second-rounder.

It should be underscored that these are averages. These are not from drafts taking place in a Twin Cities man cave – or more appropriately for 2020, outside on someone’s deck with socially distanced seating – or better yet, online.

And of course, industry data does not take into account the premise of this article: a stated mission of needing Thielen on your fantasy team.

If your definition of fantasy football draft success in 2020 hinges on your ability to select Thielen, get ready to reach for him. You absolutely need to grab him in round two, no matter where you pick. And if you know there are others in your league chomping at the bit to draft him, he’s a very late first-round pick at the turn – the 11th or 12th pick overall in your standard 12-team leagues. In such a scenario, Michael Thomas, Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins might be the only wide receivers off the board when you draft Thielen. You need to be okay with that if locking down Thielen is imperative. It’s what you’d need to do in order to ensure getting him.

Then you need to follow up the premium paid for Thielen by getting another really good wide receiver early as insurance of sorts, just in case the injury bug resurfaces for the 30-year-old. This draft scenario calls for three wideouts (Thielen and two others) plus two running backs in the first five rounds before even contemplating looking at other positions.

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