For the first time since 2001, the Vikings have the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are not Randy Moss and Cris Carter, but they have put together two solid seasons of work together and that was with Sam Bradford and Case Keenum throwing them the ball. Now with Kirk Cousins at the helm, either of the Vikings star receivers could be in for career years. Given past seasons and what we’ve seen in the preseason, who is likely to have the more productive season?
Let’s start with some numbers from the past few seasons. There was a misconception that Thielen had his “breakout year” in 2017. This is why I had to endure every single broadcast team continue to bring up the fact that Thielen was undrafted out of Minnesota State and that he ran a 4.45 40-yard dash. Did you also know he grew up in Detroit Lakes and he idolized Randy Moss growing up? Yes, I’ve heard it 14 times already this season.
In reality, Thielen broke onto the scene as a receiver in 2016. Thielen had 69 receptions for 967 yards and a career-high five touchdowns in 2016. Diggs had 15 more receptions that season, but Thielen led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns as Diggs had 903 yards and three touchdowns. Thielen was so successful in 2016 he actually outscored Diggs in PPR fantasy scoring by 9.4 points (160.7 to 151.3).
In 2017, Thielen led the way in both receptions and yards with 91 and 1,276, both of which ranked in the top ten in the NFL. Diggs didn’t have as consistent of production, as he had 64 receptions for 849 yards, but he did double Thielen’s touchdown count, as Diggs caught eight to share the team lead with Kyle Rudolph. Putting all of those numbers together, Thielen outscored Diggs 193.2 to 166.2 in terms of PPR fantasy scoring.
The one advantage Diggs had over Thielen last year was playoff production. I won’t mention either of their numbers against the Eagles in the NFC Championship game because I’m doing my best to burry those memories out of my brain, so I’ll look at their numbers against the Saints instead because I’ll gladly revisit that game anytime. Thielen had a nice game, with six receptions and 74 yards. Diggs, of course, outshone him with six catches, 137 yards and the greatest play in the history of the Minnesota Vikings franchise.
Yup, this Minnesota Miracle will never get old. 😳 #WildPlayWednesday
One of the biggest reasons why Thielen has been able to be more productive than Diggs in the past two regular seasons has been his durability. Thielen hasn’t missed a game in his four-year tenure with the Vikings, while Diggs has never played a full season in his three seasons thus far. Diggs has missed eight games in his career, hindering his chance to put together a Pro Bowl season, something Thielen was able to do last year.
Thielen has the lead considering his consistency over the past two seasons, but a huge factor in this debate is Cousins. Going off of preseason numbers, Diggs has been the clear favorite. Maryland product has seven receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown, while Thielen has four receptions for 26 yards, all of that coming in the win over Seattle on Friday. Thielen missed the game against Denver, so that gives Diggs the advantage here. But it’s not just the numbers that have been more impressive. Cousins and Diggs have made a couple connections that show a clear understanding between the two
Like this beautiful back-shoulder throw against the Seahawks.
And then there was this gem of a throw-and-catch against the Broncos.
Right now, Diggs seems to be Cousins’ favorite target.
Looking back on Cousins’ numbers over the past few seasons doesn’t show much of a pattern for his targets. Over the last three seasons in Washington, they have had a different receiver lead the team in receptions. Jordan Reed led the way with 87 in 2015, then Pierre Garcon with 79 in 2016 and Jamison Crowder with 66 last season. This can be contributed to Washington letting Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson go last season and to Reed continually having health problems. Cousins really never had a consistent option in his three seasons as the full-time starter. Either way, Cousins spread the wealth to many receivers over those three years, and I would expect more of the same with the Vikings considering they also have Rudolph, Dalvin Cook and a hodgepodge of secondary receivers to get the ball to.
It’s a toss-up when predicting receiver production, especially when you have two receivers that are playing with a new quarterback for the first time. I’m not the only one struggling to come up with a clear answer in this debate either, as ESPN has Thielen and Diggs back-to-back in average draft position for fantasy drafts this year. Thielen currently has an ADP of 31.3, while Diggs comes in right behind him at 31.4.
I’m siding with Thielen because of his durability and production over the past two years. One other factor to throw in is Thielen just had his best season after signing an extension last offseason. Diggs got an extension this summer, and while I don’t expect the added money to affect how Diggs plays, there’s always a chance the motivation could drop after getting paid. As a Vikings fan, I hope they both dominate and Thielen finishes with one more fantasy point so I’m proven right. As long as they both continue to put up numbers, it’s a win-win.
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