Over the first eight weeks of the NFL season, there has never been a wide receiver to get off to a faster start than the Vikings’ Adam Thielen. Thielen has gone eight-straight games with more 100-yards receiving, racking up 925 yards on 74 catches and six touchdowns. He is also tied with Calvin Johnson going into week nine as the only other receiver in NFL history with eight-consecutive 100-yard games.
For some reason, Thielen is not getting the full recognition that a flashy wide receiver tends to get in the National Football League. Some people say it’s because of his lack of touchdowns and some say it’s because he isn’t as athletic as a “normal” wide receiver. Let’s take a look at how his numbers currently match up with other receivers around the league.
There are currently two other receivers that are above Thielen in touchdowns at the halfway point of the 2018 season. Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs are the only receivers with more touchdowns than Thielen, Brown with eight and Hill with seven.
Those are two explosive wide receivers that are both a part of offenses that tend to sling the ball around. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has thrown for ten more touchdowns than Kirk Cousins this season, giving his fellow receivers ten more chances at crossing the goal line. Although Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers has only thrown 14 touchdowns, Brown is still known as arguably the best receiver in the NFL. Someone could say that Thielen is currently in elite company while only having these two receivers ahead of him in touchdown receptions thus far.
There are a lot of talented receivers around the NFL. Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr. and DeAndre Hopkins are just a few that the experts say are at the top of the group right now. Hopkins and Thielen are tied on the season with six touchdowns a piece, but Beckham and Jones have a combined total of two touchdowns halfway through the 2018 campaign.
To be fair, Thielen has been targeted more than these three. However, even though he has been targeted more, he still has a higher catch percentage than all three. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Thielen has a catch percentage of 77.08. Beckham is the next closest in targets but his catch percentage is an entire ten percent below Thielen. The argument can be made that Eli Manning is slowing down Beckham’s play, but he’s still been thrown to nearly as much as Thielen and hasn’t seen the same results.
The league leader in catch percentage is Michael Thomas with an astounding 90.63 percent, but he also has the most accurate quarterback in NFL history throwing him the ball. Even with the highest catch percentage in the league, he has two touchdowns and about 250 receiving yards less than Thielen
Since Thielen is a part of the NFC North, there have also been people debating on who’s the better receiver between him and Davante Adams of the Green Bay Packers.
Looking at the past won’t necessarily give Thielen the amount of recognition he deserves. By this time, everyone has heard of the old Minnesota State receiver’s story. Thielen worked his way on to the Vikings through the practice squad and special teams, while not getting the chance to participate as much on the offensive side of the ball.
Thielen didn’t become a legitimate starter at the wide receiver position until 2016, so starting at that point would be the best comparison. Over the last three years, Thielen’s stats add up to 234 catches for 3,168 yards and 15 touchdowns. Adams totals add up to 201 catches for 2,572 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Looking at these numbers, Adams certainly does have more touchdowns over the past three years. However, this could be due to the levels of talent around the two receivers. The Packers have four rushing touchdowns and 12 receiving touchdowns in 2018, meaning Adams has contributed to 6 of their total 16 touchdowns. The Vikings have scored five rushing touchdowns and 16 receiving touchdowns, with Thielen contributing for six of their 21 total touchdowns.
Adams has scored almost 38 percent of the Packers’ offensive touchdowns. Whereas Thielen has scored about 29 percent of the Vikings’ offensive touchdowns. Throughout Thielen’s hot start, he has scored the same amount of touchdowns in 2018 as Adams. Some could also argue that the Vikings have more contributors on the offensive side of the ball, limiting Thielen’s chances to score as many touchdowns as Adams.
To go a step further, comparing wide receivers in the red zone can be a very useful statistic. Davante Adams has been targeted 15 times in the red zone, racking in seven of those catches for six touchdowns and a catch percentage of just over 46. Adam Thielen has 13 red zone targets, racking in nine of those catches for three touchdowns and a catch percentage of more 69 percent.
Thielen also has 235 more receiving yards than Adams, a stat that Adams might be able to catch up on with the Vikings bye coming up in two weeks. It is obvious that both receivers are extremely talented, but Thielen is doing more on an offense that has additional weapons that also find the end zone frequently, whereas Adams is his teams primary scoring option.
Coming out of college, Adams ran a 4.56 40-yard-dash at the NFL Combine. Although Thielen didn’t get his chance to impress scouts at the NFL Combine, something jumped out to the Vikings scouting department when they saw Thielen run a 4.45 40-yard-dash at his regional combine (that he had to pay for to attend). It turns out that the Vikings scouts made the right decision to invite an “unathletic” Division II college player to their training camp that following season.
At the end of the day, comparing wide receivers can be a very difficult task. For the majority of them, the best way to measure up the receivers is to look at all of their numbers and how they line up with the other greats. That is the main reason most people consider Jerry Rice to be the G.O.A.T. of receivers.
It is only fair to give credit where credit is due, and that is to look at Adam Thielen’s numbers and realize he is on pace to have one of the greatest seasons ever by a wide receiver. He might not be the most talented receiver to ever play the game, but right now he is the best receiver in the National Football League.