The Vikings Have a Sudden TD Magnet

The Vikings Have a Sudden TD Magnet
Nov 16, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen . Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports.

As Adam Thielen tunnels deeper in his 30s, he’ll have staying power with the Minnesota Vikings for one specific reason.

Starting in 2019, seemingly inexplicably, Thielen morphed into a touchdown magnet. Before that, also inexplicably, Thielen was a receiving-yard savant who didn’t quite score touchdowns at a clip congruent with his yards pace.

During Thielen’s first five seasons, he notched 19 scores with a hodgepodge of quarterbacks in Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum, and Sam Bradford. In the last three seasons, Thielen’s touchdown total spiked to 30.

Sep 26, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps it was the maturation of a relationship with Kirk Cousins, who joined the team in 2018. Regardless, the touchdowns came flowing in for Thielen during Cousins’ second season as Vikings QB1.

So much so, Thielen leads all WRs in Receiving Touchdowns per Target since 2019. Here are the numbers:

Receiving TD % per Target,
Since 2019:
(min. 100 Targets)

  1. Adam Thielen (11.9%)
  2. Gabriel Davis (10.4%)
  3. Mike Evans (10.2%)
  4. Ja’Marr Chase (10.1%)
  5. Tre’Quan Smith (9.6%)
  6. Allen Lazard (8.8%)
  7. A.J. Brown (8.1%)
  8. D.K. Metcalf (8.1%)
  9. Tyreek Hill (8.0%)
  10. Willie Snead (7.8%)

What does this mean? Generally speaking, when Thielen is targeted, he scores at a higher rate than any other prominent wide receiver in the NFL.

The “sudden” part of his magnetism is derived from his past performance. From 2014 to 2018, Thielen posted a 4.5% via this metric — or scored 4.5% of the time the ball was thrown in his direction. But starting in 2019, the number skyrocketed to 11.9% — the best in the world.

Oct 7, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Thielen, 31, is scheduled to be with the Vikings for three more seasons, as his contract is aligned appropriately and exactly with the beginning of Justin Jefferson’s eventual ginormous payday. Onlookers of the Vikings should get a few more seasons to determine if Thielen continues the breakneck touchdown rate.

Plus, it would be strange for Thielen to slow down during life after Mike Zimmer. Minnesota hired Kevin O’Connell to replace Zimmer, and O’Connell and Zimmer are about as similar as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — at least in terms of football philosophies. Zimmer adored a defense-first approach, running the ball down throats and scoring just enough points to reign victorious. O’Connell, on the other hand, arrives in Minnesota from a Los Angeles Rams system that fancies points, points, and more points.

If Thielen attained the above-listed touchdown mark in a defense-first, run-the-ball culture, his projection in an O’Connell scheme should only enhance.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).