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Bleacher Report – Vikings

There was nothing flukey about Adam Thielen’s strong 2016 season

By Matthew Coller

Adam Thielen’s story is already inspiring other undrafted players.

In a conference call to discuss his new contract with the Twin Cities media, the Minnesota Vikings’ wide receiver said other undrafted players have approached him to find out how he rose from an undrafted D-II player to signing a three-year, $27 million contract as the team’s No. 1B (to Stefon Diggs’ 1A) wide receiver.

“There’s a guy that came up to me that really stuck to my story and he’s probably going to be in a similar situation,” Thielen said. “He just wanted to pick my brain and see how I did it and he wants to do a similar thing. I think it’s a cool thing because there’s a lot of guys out there who can play in this league who might be discouraged because they come from a small school or a tough situation.”

Thielen entered training camp in 2016 as a depth receiver behind Diggs, who had emerged in the second half of 2015 as a top receiver, veteran Jarius Wright, Charles Johnson and first-round pick Laquon Treadwell. He may have even been considered to be lower on the depth chart than Cordarrelle Patterson, who worked to earn a spot in the offense after seeing only two catches the year before.

Throughout the preseason, Thielen moved ahead of Wright and Treadwell on the depth chart and saw five targets (four catches) in Week 1. His breakout game came in Week 5 against the Houston Texans. With Diggs injured, he stepped into the No. 1 role and caught seven passes on eight targets for 127 yards and a touchdown. From that game forward, he was officially one of Sam Bradford’s favorite targets.

The 26-year-old receiver finished the year with 69 catches on 92 targets (75.0% completion percentage) for 967 yards and five touchdowns.

With any out-of-nowhere success story, there will be questions about whether Mr. Disney Movie can keep it up once the league adjusts. See: Jeremy Lin or Tim Tebow or Shane Spencer. In this case, the Vikings have nothing to worry about.

Thielen’s success didn’t come from a small sample size hot streak. It came from repeatable skills like, size/speed, hands, route running and ball-tracking.

At 6-foot-2, and around 210-pounds, Thielen ran a 4.45 40-yard dash and 6.77 three-cone drill. That’s the exact same size as Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu except faster in both categories.

This play against Jacksonville was emblematic of several things Thielen does well. He uses his hands to create separation off the line of scrimmage, creates separation through some physical contact while finding the ball in the air and brings in the pass.

Sam Bradford was able to use Thielen in every area of the field on short and deep throws.

Here are his splits via ESPN:

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 2.20.12 PM

The Vikings struggled at times to convert when throwing the ball on third downs, but when Bradford targeted Thielen, he often had success. Of 20 third down receptions, 14 turned into first downs and Thielen averaged 10.1 Yards Per Target on third downs. When Bradford threw to anyone other than No. 19, he posted just 4.8 Yards Per Attempt.

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur used both Diggs and Thielen in the slot, creating difficult matchups for opponents. If the Vikings add to their receiving corps or see a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2 from Laquon Treadwell, it will allow for even more 1-on-1 matchups for Thielen and Diggs.

To add to his value, the former Mankato star was ranked 11th best among wide receivers in run blocking by Pro Football Focus.

So it’s kind of Thielen to help other undrafted players who want to follow in his footsteps, but that’s going to be pretty difficult. He told 1500ESPN earlier this season that, unlike most top receivers, he hadn’t committed fully to football until he got to Mankato and even considered playing D-III basketball, which kept him off the radar for NFL teams. So his path was a little flukey. His success in 2016, however, was not.

Adam Thielen and the long journey for undrafted free agents

The post There was nothing flukey about Adam Thielen’s strong 2016 season appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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