Can Adam Thielen Overcome his Modest Start to the Season?

Week 18 at Bears
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Adam Thielen has long been a great player for the Minnesota Vikings. By this point, most fans know his story, one where he overcame long odds as an UDFA to solidify himself as one of the NFL’s best wide receivers.

At this point, Justin Jefferson has taken over WR1 duties in Minnesota. Thielen has thus moved to the WR2 role, a vitally important job in an NFL where passing the ball is of the utmost importance. For a variety of reasons, though, Thielen has gotten off to a slow start to the year.

Indeed, his stats have been modest after 6 weeks. The veteran has played 95% of the team’s snaps on offense, but he only has 29 catches, 284 yards, and 2 TDs. The 9.8 yards-per-reception average would be the lowest of his career. In fact, if the patterns holds, it’ll be the first time in his career that he has averaged less than 10 yards per reception.

Thankfully, the season isn’t ending today. The majority of the games remain on the Vikings’ schedule, so there’s plenty of time for Adam Thielen to start getting back to his usual level.

If we dig into some of the more overlooked stats, we can start to see why Thielen’s overall statistical production is more modest. Take, for instance, yards after the catch. From 2018-2021, Thielen always averaged north of 3 yards after the catch (per reception). So far in 2022, Thielen is merely averaging 1.9 yards after the catch. Perhaps that’s due to the routes he’s being asked to run; perhaps that’s due to some declining speed. Or, possibly, it’s the result of several factors.

We might also look to his average depth of target. It currently stands at 9 yards, the lowest number since 2018. When we combine shorter routes and less yards after the catch, we get less yards overall.

His catch percentage sits at 67.4%, a number that’s below his career average – 69.2% – but not wildly off from previous seasons. So, he’s still catching the ball at a high rate (he hasn’t dropped the ball yet) but he isn’t being sent as deep and isn’t picking up the same amount of yards after the catch.

Adam Thielen has the fifth-largest cap hit for the Vikings in 2022. His deal is coming in at $11,668,235 against the cap. Next season, that number will grow to $19,967,647. Given the recent play and the upcoming Justin Jefferson extension, Thielen’s 2023 cap hit likely can’t stand as it is.

Coming into the season, one of Minnesota’s greatest strengths was the depth of tremendous talent on offense. Jefferson would be joined by Dalvin Cook, K.J. Osborn, Irv Smith Jr., and, of course, Adam Thielen. At times, the offense has struggled to find a balance among all of their play makers. There’s no way that each one can be featured every week, though it’d be safe to saw that the offense can do a better job of balancing the touches among their stars.

After 6 games, the Vikings have yet to clear 30 points in a single game.

Thielen is one of this team’s main leaders and main weapons on offense. Kevin O’Connell, Kirk Cousins, and the rest of the offense thus need to find a way to help ensure the veteran receiver is producing at a high level.

The bye week allows the roster to get healthy and coaching staff to catch its breath. In Week 8, let’s look for a renewed commitment to featuring their WR2.