Maverick and the Jet Fly for Vikings in Danger Zone

Justin Jefferson / Adam Thielen
Sep 27, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) in the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings’ duo of receivers is elite in multiple areas. Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson lead the league in receiving yards and touchdowns among wideout duos since Jefferson was drafted in 2020.

Maverick Loves the Danger Zone

Thielen played Division II college football for the Minnesota State Mavericks. He was close to quitting the pursuit of becoming a professional football player but then convinced the Vikings to sign him after a great performance at the rookie tryouts. The wideout worked his way to the field through the practice squad in 2013 and mainly played on special teams in 2014 and 2015 before finally having his breakout season as a receiver in 2016. His career peaked in 2018 when he started the year with a record eight consecutive 100-yard games.

But in 2020, Thielen evolved his game which is great for the Vikings and could lengthen his career. He became an elite threat in the red zone for the purple team. After recording 25 touchdowns between 2014 and 2019 combined, the receiver hauled in 24 throughout the last two campaigns. PFF considers him the second-best wideout in the red zone. His receiving grade in that area only trailed DK Metcalf, the big Seahawks player. He has the physical gifts to be dominant there, while Thielen has to use his skills and cleverness. The results, however, are impressive.

“Thielen led the top-25 graded receivers by catching 86.7% of his 15 red-zone targets. He also found the end zone nine times and was among 10 players who caught 100.0% of their catchable targets.”

– Bryant Horn, PFF

It’s necessary to have a great connection with the quarterback to be this great in the red zone despite the shortened field. Coverages are getting tight, and defenses don’t have to defend the threat of going deep. Cousins and Thielen are great at that.

The Jet Completes Elite Duo

The 2022 Vikings Pre-Draft Depth Chart
Justin Jefferson

Thielen isn’t the only receiver on the purple team who is excellent in the red zone and has the trust of the quarterback, Kirk Cousins. Jefferson ranks sixth among wideouts in that area of the field. The only players between Jefferson and Thielen are top receivers Cooper Kupp, DeAndre Hopkins, and Davante Adams.

“The LSU product caught 91.7% of his catchable targets and 71.4% of his open targets for 101 yards and seven touchdowns. Jefferson caught 52.4% of his 21 overall red-zone targets, which ranked 23rd of 25.”

– Bryant Horn, PFF

Cousins had a few throws that he more or less just threw away in the direction of Jefferson, which explains the low 52.4% catch rate. He also missed him a few times. Jefferson still ranks easily in the top 10 because of plays like that:

Scoring more touchdowns and winning more contested catches is an area where Jefferson can still improve despite his impressive start. His 3,016 yards are the most of any player in his first two seasons. His 17 touchdowns, meanwhile, rank him 23rd.

Vikings´ Rivals In the Top 10

Two other NFC North wideouts made the top 25 list, not counting Davante Adams. The Packers traded him to the Las Vegas Raiders.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, the up-and-coming star from the Detroit Lions, had a phenomenal rookie campaign. He collected over 900 receiving yards and five touchdowns. The other three rookie receivers who eclipsed the 900 yards were Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith. St. Brown ranked 9th in the list, not far behind Jefferson.

“While St. Brown surprised the NFL landscape with a solid rookie campaign, his red-zone play was fairly average. He snagged 10 of his 15 targets for 82 yards and four touchdowns. In addition, he caught 90.9% of his catchable targets.”

– Bryant Horn, PFF

Vikings fans, unfortunately, remember him for scoring the game-winning touchdown in Week 13. It was the Lions’ first win of the season and a big setback for the Vikings in the race for a playoff spot.

The Packers also have a receiver in the top 25. After the departure of Davante Adams, someone else has to be Rodgers’ top target. Allen Lazard is the favorite for that role because he already earned the trust of his future Hall of Fame passer. He ranks 18th on the list.

“Lazard rounds out the Packers receivers on the list, catching eight of his 15 red-zone targets for 73 yards. His seven touchdowns bring Adams and his collective total to 17 red-zone touchdowns. The Iowa State product caught only 66.7% of his catchable targets, which ranked 25th of 25, and he averaged 6.1 yards per reception in the red zone, which ranked 21st.”

– Bryant Horn, PFF

The receiver has almost the size of a tight end. The 6’5″, 227-pound frame is a great asset to be dangerous in the red zone. He doesn’t possess elite explosiveness, but his size helps him against smaller defenders.


Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. He chose the Vikings as his favorite team, despite Christian Ponder being the quarterback at the time. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt