Adam Thielen: League winner?
That’s the question those who own him and those who passed will be pondering on Thanksgiving when the Vikings visit the Lions. The past three weeks, Thielen has piled up 387 receiving yards on 19 grabs. The criticism is that he’s not a TD maker, but he’s scored one time in each of the last three contests.
Thielen’s games 8-10 have accounted for the ninth most fantasy points in standard scoring by a receiver over that same crucial three-game span in a season since 2010, according to Pro-Football-Reference. To help us figure out what that means for Thielen, let’s look at some of the other wideouts who similarly excelled.
Of course, many are just great players who were drafted highly to dominate. Guys like Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham and Julio Jones. While Thielen was atop my wide receiver recommendations in August due to his fantastic efficiency in 2016, his ADP was only 126 in August.
If you want to take a dim view of Thielen and ignore the 2016 performance and recent fantasy dominance and think he’s a bit of a fluke, then his most comparable players on the list of top performances during games 8-10 in a season are 2010 Brandon Lloyd, Dwayne Bowe, Santonio Holmes and Stevie Johnson and 2014 Emmanuel Sanders (even though Sanders has developed into a very good/great and similarly undervalued receiver). The average rest of season performance for those wideouts was 4.7 catches for 70 receiving (plus rushing) yards and about 0.4 touchdowns. That’s 9.4 standard points per game or 14.1 in PPR. I would bet heavily on Thielen to top that. Like Sanders in 2014, I think it’s pretty clear that Thielen no matter what you previously thought of him is a top 20 real-life receiver, at least. Maybe he’s top 10 given he’s doing all this with Case Keenum at quarterback.
Thielen’s developed instant chemistry with Keenum and is a solid bet to continue to produce. I’d be very surprised if he wasn’t a top 12 WR going forward. The schedule after the Lions: at the Falcons, at Carolina, Bengals and at Packers (fifth worst in yards allowed per pass attempt). Only the Packers game poses potential weather problems and three are indoors.
Now let’s take a look at just the Thanksgiving slate.
Watch the Vikings and Lions on play-action. Minnesota uses it more frequently than any team and Matthew Stafford has a 125 passer rating on these plays, according to my research for The Wall Street Journal. This shows you don’t even need to run the ball well for play-action to work.
This is of course a terrible spot for the Lions given Minnesota’s ability to stuff opposing offenses. While the Lions somehow won the prior meeting, 14-7 in Minnesota, Stafford was a non-factor with zero TD passes. The Lions lone TD was scored by Ameer Abdullah, who has found pay dirt in three straight games but remains horribly inefficient (3.4 per rush and just 6.1 per reception). When he’s not popping a big run (10-plus yards), Abdullah is averaging 1.9 per carry, about a 0.6 below the league average.
The Cowboys have the slowest offense in the NFL, perhaps the slowest this decade. Dez Bryant has to have someone to keep safeties deep so he can operate a little more freely in the intermediate area of the field. It’s hard to remember many (any?) times when Bryant is running free. Maybe he just can’t run anymore, period. He’s averaging just 6.9 yards per target. Prior to his foot injury, with Tony Romo, that figure (for 2014) was 9.7. I can’t see how this offense works now. Alfred Morris isn’t the problem: 144 yards on 28 carries since Ezekiel Elliott began serving his suspension.
I loved Tyrell Williams before the season but he’s had one good game and is near invisible now. Keenan Allen is clearly the man for the Chargers, accounting for 26.2% of Phillip Rivers’ targets — old school numbers. Unlike the Cowboys, the Chargers have Travis Benjamin to threaten defenses deep.
You want to play Orleans Darkwa against the Redskins, who had no answers for the Saints running backs in Week 11. Yes, they had all kinds of problems late with Coby Fleener but you have to worry if Evan Engram as an unpolished rookie can withstand being the focus of the defense on every snap. That was a big problem for Engram against the Chiefs. Darkwa is sneaky good right now and this is a great matchup.
You need to add Josh Doctson now. Someone has to step up into the void with Kirk Cousins still able to deal. Yes, he can spread it around without Chris Thompson now, too. But Doctson has seven targets in each of the last two games and I see double-digits on Thanksgiving. Cousins targets are very valuable, given his sterling 8.1 yards per pass attempt (fourth among active QBs).