Adam Thielen Leaves Big Shoes to Fill

Justin Jefferson and 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 Minnesota Vikings are facing yet another injury setback, leaving us wondering who can fill in for wide receiver Adam Thielen. Thielen was injured during the devastating loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Thielen grew up in Minnesota, as a Vikings fan, wearing Moss and Carter jerseys to school. He played college at Minnesota State University and dreamed of playing for the Vikings. He’s now one of the team’s best players and main leaders, but the injury means he won’t be available on Thursday Night Football.

Thielen’s Impact

The impact Thielen has made on this offense, both as a leader and a player, cannot be overstated. After being undrafted in 2013, he participated in a rookie tryout at the Vikings facility. Thielen impressed the coaches and was signed to a 3-year undrafted free agent contract. Now in his 8th season with the Vikings, Adam Thielen has become a household name. He has had 461 receptions for 5,926 yards. He averages 12.9 yards per reception and has scored 49 touchdowns. 

At the time of his injury, Thielen was on track to have another amazing season. In 2021, Thielen has 64 catches for 686 yards. Furthermore, he is tied for 2nd in the NFL with 10 receiving touchdowns. He led the league in receiving touchdowns since 2020 with 24. 

About the Injury

During the Vikings first offensive series in the Lions game, Thielen caught a screen pass from QB Kirk Cousins. He was quickly tackled by Lion defender Jerry Jacobs. Fans’ hearts dropped when they saw Thielen grimacing on the ground, in quite a bit of pain, as he tore off his helmet. 

Initially, Thielen was marked as questionable but by the start of the 3rd quarter, he was out for the remainder of the game. It was discouraging when the news emerged that it was a high ankle sprain; high ankle sprains are painful and unpredictable. The good news is that it doesn’t appear to need surgery. The bad news is there is no way to tell definitively when he will be ready to return to action. Medical experts usually say it takes a player 4-6 weeks to return but the ankle often still isn’t fully healed for 4-6 months. That means even upon his return his ability may be hampered. This is especially true for a wide receiver who pushes the limits of their joints, requiring them to flex and bend rather quickly. 

Next Man Up

There is hope Thielen could return sooner rather than later but there is the possibility he does not return until the playoffs. Additionally, upon his return, he may not be 100%. The team needs to look at who can step up to the plate and fill in.

The short-term plan that was enacted for the rest of the Lions game (and what we will possibly see this week) is the increased usage of WR3 K.J. Osborn and tight end Tyler Conklin. Osborn stepped into that WR2 role and played 92% of offensive snaps, catching 4 of 7 targets for 47 yards and a touchdown. Conklin saw a season-high 95% of offensive snaps and had a season-high 9 targets

With a short week, the Vikings are not left with much prep time before playing the only other team who could not beat the Lions this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers, on Thursday night. Both teams are in critical games to keep their playoff hopes alive. Additionally, both teams have been hampered by injuries but the Vikings are currently favored by 3.5 points. 

To be able to win on Thursday, this new version of the Vikings offense will have to find a way to gel during the short week. Conklin and Osborn have proven their worth. Along with sophomore wideout, Justin Jefferson, the three have a chance to put up some yards in the air. If the team can use Conklin and Osborn effectively there is a strong chance they can exploit the Steelers defense that has been inconsistent this season.