Will Adam Thielen Be a Fantasy Football Stud Again in 2018?
Being selected outside of the first 100 picks, Thielen was thought of as a fringe contributor on fantasy rosters. Then he put up 239.7 PPR fantasy points and finished as a top-10 wide receiver. Now, he typically goes in the first few rounds of drafts with an average draft position in the middle of the third round, via FantasyFootballCalculator. But can he pay back on that valuation?
The biggest threat to Thielen's fantasy value is the impending breakout of Stefon Diggs. Diggs has been a favorite of #analytics Twitter for years but has yet to realize that potential fully. If he does, it’s possible that he outshines Thielen.
What should we expect in 2018?
Data Darling Stefon Diggs
Diggs left Minnesota's Week 5 game with a groin injury. He showed up on the injury report for the next three weeks and missed two of the following three games.
Taking those four games out of the equation, per Airyards.com, Thielen actually saw his season-long share of the team’s air yards and target share drop by two and one percent, respectively.
In that small sample, there’s no evidence that the presence of Diggs changed the fantasy output of Thielen drastically. Thielen led the team with a 25.8 percent target share, and that changed little with heightened competition.
Diggs could outplay him to earn more targets, but he was already more efficient last year, and that didn’t earn him the lead-receiver role.
Using our Net Expected Points (NEP) model, Diggs registered 0.83 Reception NEP per target to Thielen’s 0.71. In terms of Reception Success Rate, Diggs (84.4 percent) also outperformed Thielen (80.2 percent). The same was true in Target Success Rate: 56.8 percent for Diggs and 51.0 percent for Thielen.
Despite operating as a more efficient receiver, Diggs hasn't moved to the Vikings' target leader yet. It's possible that there is a Diggs coup in Minnesota, but assuming Diggs' greater efficiency will earn him that role goes against what we've seen so far.
Kirk Cousins Under Center
The Vikings chose to replace lovable backup Case Keenum with Kirk Cousins in free agency. And although Keenum played extraordinarily well in 2017, Cousins’ career averages are nearly identical if not better, in terms of what scores fantasy points.
|Quarterback Comparison||Yards per Attempt||Touchdown Rate|
|Kirk Cousins (Career)||7.7||4.7%|
|Case Keenum (2017)||7.4||4.6%|
These career averages are also coming from seasons during which Cousins was throwing to a less talented supporting cast than he will have in Minnesota. Despite Keenum’s Cinderella story 2017, Cousins is likely better for his receivers, giving Thielen an expected boost.
Touchdowns aren't stable year to year, and that's yet another positive for Thielen in 2018.
In 2017, Thielen scored once every 319.0 yards and 35.5 targets. Diggs scored every 106.1 yards and 11.9 targets (and, based on his Reception NEP, should experience a decline in scoring frequency in 2018).
Also, tight end Kyle Rudolph scored once every 66.5 yards and 10.1 targets.
Put bluntly, Thielen was well below average for his position in touchdown rate while his teammates dominated as scoring threats.
This came down primarily to the red zone where Thielen, Diggs, and Rudolph saw 17, 16, and 13 targets, respectively, but scored 2, 6, and 7 touchdowns, respectively. Volume is the best predictor of touchdowns, meaning that these numbers are highly unlikely to carry over into 2018.
Even if Diggs and Rudolph are better options in the red zone than Thielen is, their remarkable efficiency and Thielen's shocking inefficiency cannot be sustained. An uptick in touchdowns is inevitable for Thielen if he even comes close to repeating his red zone volume.
Thielen is being drafted as the WR13 despite finishing well ahead of that slot last year.
If Diggs takes another step forward, it could hurt Thielen’s opportunity, and as it stands now, Diggs still likely caps Thielen's overall upside.
But these risks may be factored in too heavily considering his quarterback upgrade and potential touchdown regression.
Our models project Thielen for 85 catches, 1,132 yards, and 6.1 touchdowns, placing him in line with his draft cost but on par for another top-12 season.