Can Adam Thielen Reclaim His Spot as a WR1?
Image Credit: Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Adam Thielen.

A common discussion in the dynasty community revolves around the ages of players. It’s nice to have a foundation of youth to keep your team competitive each year, but you still need those veteran players with solidified roles to put up consistent points on Sundays.

Despite the debate surrounding “age cliffs” for specific players, there are players each year who both surprise and disappoint us. Thirty years old is a significant mental benchmark for fantasy owners when evaluating their wide receivers. Some aging wideouts take the path of Larry Fitzgerald and remain fantasy-relevant for several years past 30 while others hit the cliff and don’t recover.

Adam Thielen is forcing his owners to make a big decision this offseason.

After back-to-back WR1 seasons, he limped through 2019 and missed six games due to soft tissue injuries. Entering his age 30 season, can he reclaim his spot as a WR1?

From Undrafted Free-Agent to Fantasy Star

An undrafted free-agent turned fantasy star, Thielen is a feel-good story as someone who played college football in Minnesota and has played his entire professional career for the Vikings. After not suiting up as a rookie, he went over five full seasons before finally missing a game this past year.

His most recent four seasons have been his best from a fantasy production standpoint.

During those four seasons, Thielen matches up well with his fellow wide receivers. Using the RotoViz Screener, here are a few of his closest comps from 2016-2019.

His most recent two seasons coincide with the arrival of quarterback Kirk Cousins, which will be explained in more detail shortly. In those two seasons, he’s both productive and efficient.

Unfortunately, he missed the first games of his career due to a hamstring injury this past season. As fantasy owners can attest to, these types of injuries are tough to predict and manage. Thielen, who will be 30-years old once the 2020 season begins, will have the recency bias of injuries, coupled with his age, hanging over him. Fantasy owners may feel forced into making a tough decision.

The Kirk Cousins Effect

The addition of Cousins has had a tangible benefit on Thielen’s production over the past two seasons.  Using the RotoViz Game Splits App, take a look at how much better Thielen has been for fantasy purposes with Cousins as his quarterback.

Throughout his career, the only player whom Cousins has been more efficient at targeting than Thielen is notable deep-ball specialist DeSean Jackson. The connection between Cousins and Thielen has resulted in some excellent fantasy performances for owners.

Cousins is signed with the Vikings for the next three seasons (through the 2022 season) and has shown to be a capable, efficient quarterback for a team that has an exceptional ground game as well.

Future Outlook

The recent big news in Minnesota was the departure of Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills. Over the last four seasons, Thielen and Diggs have combined for almost 900 targets, and seven top-30 fantasy finishes out of eight possible. There is a void of production that will have to be filled moving forward.

The Vikings offense has also had two very different seasons in terms of how passing and rushing attempts are distributed.

-In 2018, the Vikings passed 64% of the time (fifth highest) and rushed 36% of the time (fifth lowest)

-This equated to 39 passing and 21 rushing plays per 60 minutes

-In 2019, the Vikings passed 51% of the time (third lowest) and rushed 49% of the time (third highest)

-This equated to 30 passing and 29 rushing plays per 60 minutes

Coaching and personnel changes have dictated some of the changes. The health of running back Dalvin Cook will undoubtedly influence how pass-heavy or rush-heavy they go moving forward. Regardless, Cousins has shown an ability to be efficient irrespective of the offensive game plan.

Thielen is currently being drafted as the WR21 in best-ball leagues. His ADP has crept up a bit since the Diggs move. In startups, he is still a value at that price. While his days as a WR1 may be finished, he should be able to accrue a substantial target volume to provide a safe, high-end WR2 floor.

If you can sell him for a late 2020 1st, and your team isn’t competing this season, that’s a move I would make. Otherwise, I believe he will bounce back to fantasy relevance in 2020.

Samuel Wallace

Staff Writer & Dynasty Analyst
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