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The Adam Thielen Project

Adam Thielen of the Vikings basically came out of nowhere to fantasy stardom. How did that happen? How did no one see him coming?
Adam Thielen began his college football career for the Minnesota State Mavericks in 2009. Over the next 4 years Thielen compiled 2,802 yards and 20 touchdowns. During the 2013 draft Thielen did not hear his name called so he accepted a tryout for the Vikings. He spent the 2013 season on the practice squad.
The 2014 and 2015 seasons allowed Thielen to remain buried on the depth chart while still gaining experience. He was leap-frogged by 5th-round rookie Stefon Diggs, but a large shakeup in the 2016 offseason gave Thielen the real chance he needed.
Mike Wallace came and went. Laquon Treadwell was drafted in the 1st round. Diggs was already established. Luckily Treadwell struggled early and Thielen seized the opportunity and never looked back.
If you’ve read my past articles you’ll know how important college dominator and breakout age are to a wide receiver’s chances at NFL success. 63% of the WRs to finish in the top 24 over the last 7 years had an above-average college dominator AND breakout age. Here is what the 2015-2016 Vikings WR group looked like.
Poor Cordarrelle Patterson and Laquon Treadwell. If only the Vikings had an idea about college dominator before spending such high draft capital on 2 wide receivers.
So let’s review:
-high college performance
-uncertain depth chart
-time to learn
-little-to-no draft capital
Candidate #1: Jordan Lasley, Ravens
 
Jordan Lasley was drafted in the 5th round of the 2018 draft. He spent the entire 2018 campaign on Injured Reserve along with Jaleel Scott. Michael Crabtree and John Brown have moved on vacating 197 targets. Baltimore figures to rely on a run-heavy approach based on the play calling once Lamar Jackson was installed as the quarterback. I’m not so certain that’s a given and Willie Snead, at a minimum, is a screaming value right now.
Willie Snead could have been viewed as an Adam Thielen project a few years ago. However, Lasley is 4 years younger and has 2 inches on Snead. Chris Moore is the assumed WR2 by default while the two rookies get up to speed.
Marquise Brown is going to have a tough time in the NFL at 166 pounds. Tiny Tavon Austin is an inch taller and 8 pounds heavier than Brown. Seriously. The Ravens do not employ Jeff Fisher though, so expect Brown to be a slightly better wide receiver than Austin.
Miles Boykin is interesting except he broke out his senior year and is actually older than Lasley. There really is no substitute for NFL experience at a younger age.
As you can see, no one else is really set to take this team by storm. Lasley is essentially free and the potential reward is definitely worth the price.
Candidate #2: David Moore, Seahawks
 
Doug Baldwin has retired. The Seahawks drafted DK Metcalf in the 2nd round and Gary Jennings in the 4th round. David Moore has become the forgotten man in Seattle and I think he needs a 2nd look.
Moore actually compares quite well to Davante Adams outside of draft capital.
Does that mean Moore is on track to become a top 5 WR? Not unless the Seahawks change their offensive philosophy, which I don’t see happening soon. He did perform rather well last year covering for Baldwin as a rookie.
Moore leapt Jaron Brown on the depth chart in week 4. From then on Moore only had 1 game with less than 3 targets. Moore outpaced the other WRs on the roster and made Brandon Marshall expendable.
A quick look at 4for4’s snap app you’ll see Moore mirrored Baldwin’s points per snap. 2019 will be Moore’s 3rd year in the league and this is what the current WR room looks like:
Tyler Lockett is locked into the top spot. DK Metcalf was chosen in the 2nd round but had 1,228 total receiving yards in college. Total. He’s a physical freak, but he should have been more successful in college. Seattle is the franchise that cares the least about draft capital, which gives Moore an ample opportunity to never let go of his starting spot. Just look at last year with Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson.
Jaron Brown is probably reduced to WR5, if he makes the team at all. Amara Darboh was cut early despite the high draft capital, so his 2nd stint isn’t a threat to the starting lineup. Gary Jennings is an interesting prospect that I would be much higher on if David Moore wasn’t on the roster. John Ursua is a 25 year old rookie. Come on, son!
Candidate #3: Zay Jones, Bills
 
Yes, I realize Zay Jones was drafted in the 2nd round in 2017 as the 4th WR behind Corey Davis, Mike Williams, and John Ross.
The first two years haven’t been horrible but also nothing to really write home about. He did improve in most categories, which is a good sign for him and Josh Allen under center.
The Bills had a who’s who of WRs in 2017: Deonte Thompson, Jordan Matthews (deep sigh), Kelvin Benjamin, and Zay Jones.
2018 saw Jones and Robert Foster as the top WRs by the end of the season where they flip-flopped successful weeks. Clearly Josh Allen was better suited to support WRs in fantasy than Tyrod Taylor.
Then the Bills decided 2 real WRs wasn’t conducive to NFL success. They went out and signed 30 year old Cole Beasley to a 4 year, $29 million contract that really doesn’t give themselves an out until after 2020. 29 year old John Brown received a contract for 3 years, $27 million. The Bills can get out after 2019 but it will hurt a bit.
Current average depth position (ADP) shows Foster is being drafted as the WR63, Brown at WR65, Jones at WR66, and Beasley at WR106. Clearly the fantasy football community has no idea how to view this WR corps.
John Brown was wasted in Baltimore once Joe Flacco gave way to Lamar Jackson and the offensive philosophy changed. Cole Beasley will sit in the slot leaving Brown, Jones, and Foster to fight over the 2 outside receiver positions. You don’t write checks totaling for $10.7 million to John Brown to have him as WR4. So that leaves Jones and Foster.
Thus far Robert Foster has received far more sleeper notes than Jones. Somehow 45 targets to a 24 year old rookie, with abysmal college production, who already knew the offense from Brian Daboll at Alabama, denotes a breakout candidate.
Breaking News: it does not. Jones’ closest comp is Michael Crabtree.
Zay Jones is very cheap and will certainly rise in value this year. Oh, and he won the Bills’ offseason training award.
Other notable candidates: Deontay Burnett (NYJ), Keelan Cole (JAC), Robert Davis (WAS), Trent Taylor (SF), Josh Malone (CIN), Isaiah Ford (MIA), Dillon Mitchell (MIN), Keelan Doss (OAK).

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