Cleat Geeks

Dynasty Look Ahead: I Have a Bad Thielen About This…

I am sure you are all absolutely shocked that this article is about…you got it…Adam Thielen. Coming off of an incredible season where Adam Thielen came in as WR9 in PPR format with a target share of 27%, it would make sense that owners are more than happy having him as the anchor of their wide receiver corp going into the 2018 season. I am here to remove that feeling of comfort and to tell you “Now is the time to sell!” Why though? Adam Thielen is coming off of possibly one of the greatest seasons ever for an undrafted free agent wide receiver and he finally has a franchise quarterback that will be throwing him the ball next season. Throughout the beginning of this off-season, I had been acquiring him anywhere I could, whether via trade, startup draft, by any means necessary. However, like any crazy dynasty fantasy footballer, I decided to dive in and really look into the numbers.

In the information age that we live in, we are literally clicks away from finding just about any stat imaginable on any individual player. Lucky for me, as a result of spending way too much time on twitter discussing fantasy football (at least that’s what my fiancé tells me), I was fortunate enough to stumble upon www.ffstatistics.com. If you haven’t taken a quick peak at the information they are able to provide, do yourself a favor and go check it out. With their database, I was able to quickly access all the statistics and data I needed to do enough Adam Thielen research for a lifetime. Anyway, I digress. We often talk about breakout age when it comes to college players as being a key indicator as to whether or not a player will find success in the NFL. However, I haven’t seen much about breakout age (for the purpose of this article we will refer to breakout age as to when a receiver hits a target share of 20%) when it comes to the NFL. Looking at countless stats available, the first thing that popped out to me was that Adam Thielen did not hit a target share above 20% until the age of 27.

Not only did he hit 20%, he left that number in the rear view mirror and was able to reach a target share of 27%. There have only been 3 other receivers (minimum 10 games played in the year preceding breakout season) that began their career after the start of the 2005 season that had a higher percent increase from the previous year to put them over a 20% market share for the first time (Calvin Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, and…Brian Hartline). So is Adam Thielen the next Calvin Johnson? Well this is where the breakout age of 27 comes into play. There have been 66 other wide receivers that began their career after 2005 that have taken at least one season to hit a target share of 20% in a season, meaning they did not hit 20% during their rookie season. Of those 66, only 11 receivers had a breakout age of 27 or older. Below is a quick breakdown of the positional wide receiver rankings of the year immediately following their breakout season (again, breakout season being their first season in which they hit at least a 20% target share).

WR1 1
WR2 2
WR3 0
<WR3 8

Once again, I decided to dig a little deeper. I broke these numbers down even further (New Team vs. Same Team/Same OC vs. Same Team/New OC). With Pat Shurmur packing up and heading to the Meadowlands, I was interested in seeing if there is any data historically to support the fact that this could negatively impact Thielen in 2018. Below are the positional WR rankings one year after WRs had a breakout age of 27 or older. With this being such a small sample size, you guessed it, I got my shovel out and dug a little deeper again.

New Team Same OC Same Team/New OC
100 3 19
105 17 107
110 37
52
64
72

Image result for adam thielen minnesota vikings

 

Performance aside, other factors come into play when looking at a player’s ability to produce similar results as the previous season. Out of the sample size of 66 receivers previously mentioned, 25 of those players missed at least 2 games the following season (37.9%). When we look strictly at the 11 other receivers that had an NFL breakout age of 27 or older, 7 of them missed at least 2 games the following season (63.6%). While the sample size is fairly small, it’s certainly starting to look like there might be some correlation here and some telling signs that Adam Thielen might not be a player to hang on to from a dynasty aspect.

To increase the sample size a bit, I also looked at wide receivers that had a breakout year in their 4th NFL season or later (some information overlaps with the breakout age of 27 or older sample). That information is available in two quick snapshots below.

WR1 3
WR2 5
WR3 1
<WR3 12

 

New Team Same Team/Same OC Same Team/New OC
11 3 19
55 9 26
58 10 107
100 13 116
105 13
110 17
23
37
52
64
72

The first table shows that 12 of the 21 other receivers that had a breakout year in their 4th NFL season or later had a WR4 or worse season the year immediately following their breakout season. In the second table, we see that the positional wide receiver rankings significantly differ between these players that had the same offensive coordinator in the year immediately following their breakout season compared to players with a different offensive coordinator, a la Adam Thielen in 2018. Of these 21 receivers, 10 went on to miss at least 2 games during the season immediately following their breakout season (47.6%).

There is one other integral piece that will play a significant role in whether or not Adam Thielen has seen the best days of his career, that being the $84 million man, Kirk Cousins. While Kirk Cousins is widely viewed as a drastic improvement over everybody’s favorite journeyman quarterback, Case Keenum, this might not be the case (had to include one more pun) when it comes to Adam Thielen. I could ramble on for one more paragraph, but I will throw in one final table to drive the point home.

Kirk Cousins Case Keenum
2015 2016 2017 2017
Attempts 543 606 540 481
WR1 TS 18.65% 18.78% 19.07%* 27.44%
WR2 TS 15.28% 16.47%* 14.44% 17.46%*
WR3 TS 7.77%* 16.31% 12.04% 7.07%
TE1 TS 20.99%* 14.69%* 12.78% 16.22%
RB1 TS 8.84%* 10.23% 10%* 13.51%

*Indicates that position missed at least 1 game during season

 

In Adam Thielen’s epic 2017 season, he and Stefon Diggs accounted for ~45% of Case Keenum’s targets. In this situation, improved quarterback play is going to result in a more even pass distribution, as Kirk Cousins has never had a receiver account for a target share of 20% or greater.

While Adam Thielen was one of the feel good stories of 2017, going from an undrafted free agent to a hometown hero, now is the time to sell in all dynasty formats. For reasons including a breakout age of 27 years old, a new offensive coordinator, a perceived higher risk of injury, and throwing a new quarterback into the mix, a nice return on investment can still be had prior to the start of the 2018 season.

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