There’s An Important Unknown To Consider With Adam Thielen

Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

People took notice when Adam Thielen’s wife, Caitlin, posted that their time in Minnesota may be coming to an end. Adam Thielen is as Minnesotan as hot dish or a cabin weekend. He regularly attends Minnesota Timberwolves games and brews up Caribou Coffee for his teammates. The Detroit Lakes native still has his high school helmet in his locker and a Minnesota State Mustang bobblehead to boot.

He’s the local guy who walked onto the team, incubated on the practice squad, and his first career touchdown came on a blocked punt. Three years later, he was an All-Pro on the 2017 Vikings team that reached the NFC Championship. Injuries held him to 10 games in 2019 and 13 in 2021, but his first signs of decline came this year.

Thielen played all 17 games and finished the season with 716 yards. That’s a respectable total, but still less than the 726 yards he had in 13 games last year. Furthermore, he appears to have ceded the WR2 role to T.J. Hockenson, who the Vikings traded for at the deadline. A hybrid tight end-receiver, Hockenson had 109 and 129 yards in Minnesota’s matchups with the New York Giants and finished the year with 914 yards (519 with the Vikings).

Furthermore, K.J. Osborn came on at the end of the season. He had 157 yards in Minnesota’s historic comeback over the Indianapolis Colts and 117 in the glorified Week 18 exhibition game in Chicago. Osborn is too inconsistent to be a WR2 right now, but he’s 25 and made a drastic leap a year ago, so it’s possible we haven’t seen his best yet. Still, Thielen was more consistent than Osborn this year.

Thielen suffered a gruesome knee injury in Minnesota’s Week 8 win over the Arizona Cardinals. He finished with 67 yards against Arizona and 67 in a Week 9 win over the Washington Commanders, so his production didn’t drop off immediately. Hockenson made his Vikings debut in Washington, finished with 70 yards, and became more productive than Thielen late in the year. Thielen’s knee injury never kept him out of a game, but it may explain his precipitous decline. His play dropped off dramatically at the end of the season, while Hockenson and Osborn’s comparatively improved.

Adam Thielen

T.J. Hockenson

K.J. Osborn

I’m starting with the Week 14 game in Detroit for several reasons. Hockenson and Osborn played some of their best football at the end of the season, while Thielen’s started to tail off. But more importantly, the Lions were the first team to play Thielen physically. Thielen fared well against the Lions, finishing with 61 yards in Week 3 and 65 in Week 14. But in a copycat league, other teams started following Detroit’s lead.

“I remember them being the start of a little stretch of physicality,” Thielen said after the Week 14 game. “I remember, like, from that game, maybe the next four weeks, it felt like teams were in your face and grabbing and holding and pressing.”

Thielen said that a lot of defenses will cloud one side of the field, meaning playing deep zone to take away shot plays and then play physically and disrupt timing on the other side of it. However, it isn’t a surefire strategy. Teams need the personnel in the secondary and among the front four to pull it off.

“It is [an effective strategy] if you have the mix of rush and coverage,” says Thielen. “If you don’t have an effective rush, I don’t think it’s an effective strategy because you tend to have some big plays when you can block it up and…essentially, it’s man-coverage across the board. One guy wins, it’s big plays.”

There are a few ways to look at why the physical strategy often held Thielen in check. First, he’s 32, the last year of most players’ prime. Perhaps the defenses Thielen faced were able to play him more physically because he’s not as quick as he once was. Secondly, it could have been more effective this year because he had two injury-riddled seasons and suffered from a knee injury. Therefore, injuries, rather than age alone, may have slowed him down. And finally, it tells us that teams are still taking him seriously. They’d just cloud his side of the field if they didn’t.

The Vikings will need to correctly assess Thielen’s abilities at age 33 because he carries a $20 million cap hit next year. That’s the second-highest number on the team, behind Kirk Cousins ($36.25 million) and in line with Brian O’Neill and Harrison Smith. Thielen can only make that kind of money if he’s a surefire WR2, and it’s hard to be confident in that after this season. He’ll probably have to restructure if he stays in Minnesota, which may be why his wife suggested on Instagram that they could be leaving next year.

Maybe Thielen’s career ends elsewhere, but there are a few things to consider. Justin Jefferson still needs a supporting cast. Hockenson is part of that, but can a tight end really be a WR2? Hockenson is a special player and is due for a big payday like Jefferson, but he’s still a hybrid receiver. And Osborn has shown some WR2 potential, but he isn’t consistent enough yet. If a healthy Thielen still takes pressure off Jefferson, he’s valuable to the team at a reduced cap hit.

What Does It Mean That the Vikings Chose Cousins Over Lamar Jackson Twice?
By Tom Schreier - Mar 31, 2023
Will Levis Is A Risk Worth the Reward For Minnesota
By Rob Searles - Mar 30, 2023

Which Quarterback Are The Vikings Drafting?

Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Today Matt, Preet, and Carter give the WHOLE breakdown on the rookie QB situation in the upcoming draft and who the most realistic options are. Sure, there […]

Continue Reading