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NFC North

Draft Guide Exclusive – Would You Rather: Diggs vs Thielen – J. Eckardt

by Jorge Eckardt

The Minnesota Vikings were one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL last year, finishing 8-7-1 and missing the playoffs after some lofty expectations heading into the season. After all, they were coming off a trip to the NFC championship game thanks to some last-minute heroics from New Orleans Saints safety, Marcus Williams. They also paid the big bucks to bring in a new franchise quarterback, one who was going to guide the franchise through what should have been a couple of years of division dominance and Super Bowl contention. However, their $84 million man couldn’t get it done during a “win-and-in” Week 17 game vs. the Chicago Bears. Cousins delivered a big fat dud, throwing for just 132 yards and one touchdown in Minnesota’s 24-10 loss. 

Heading into the 2019 season, expectations for the Vikings are lower, but they still have the talent to potentially make a playoff push. For fantasy owners, one of the biggest questions surrounding Minnesota heading into the year is which stud wide receiver they should draft; Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs. 

Both had top-10 fantasy years in half-point PPR formats (what I’ll be using throughout this article) as they were the second highest ranking pair of wide receiver teammates in all of fantasy. Only Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster had more points and now, with Brown a Raider, Thielen and Diggs are primed to take the top spot for fantasy football wide receiver duos. Let’s take a quick look at the individual years each receiver had first:

Adam Thielen: Thielen finished the season with 113 receptions on 153 targets for 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns, all of which ranked top-10 in the league. He also tied an NFL record last year when he had eight straight games with over 100 receiving yards which he did at the start of the season. He shares that record with none other than Calvin Johnson, otherwise known as Megatron.

Stefon Diggs: While his teammate was making history, Diggs was quietly putting together a great season in his own right. Finishing the year with 102 receptions on 149 targets for 1,021 yards and nine touchdowns, he proved to be one of the most consistently good receivers throughout the entire year.

However, don’t be too quick to just default to Thielen because of his 2018 statline as it will probably be very hard to replicate. Here’s why you should go against the grain and take Diggs over Thielen.

For one, Thielen’s historic start was historic for a reason; he’s (probably) not going to do that again. Yes, during that run, there was no better receiver to have on your fantasy team as he averaged over three more points per game than the next best receiver. However, after that eight-game stretch, he cooled off significantly. His points per game were cut almost in half, and he went from being the No.1 ranked wide receiver from Weeks 1-8 to the No.23 ranked wide receiver from Weeks 9-17. 

Diggs, on the other hand, was more consistent. During Thielen’s historic stretch, he still managed to be the No.10 ranked receiver in fantasy. Then in the final eight games, he was WR No.16, seven places higher than Thielen. Not only that, he did it in one less game, as he missed the Vikings’ Week 9 game with an injury to his ribs. It’s worth noting that in the only game Diggs missed, Thielen had one of his worst games of the season, catching only four passes for 22 yards, albeit with a touchdown, ending his historic streak. Was this game against a top defense? Nope – it was against Detroit. Sure, both receivers did take a hit from Minnesota’s mediocre second half of the season, but the sharpness of Thielen’s drop off is very concerning. 

Now the question is: which Thielen are we going to get next season? Are we going to get the Thielen that was on track for 1,850 yards and 12 touchdowns, or the one who, if extended over an entire season, would only have had 896 yards and 6 touchdowns?

To me, Thielen is simply too risky a pick to take in the first few rounds of the draft. This isn’t to say that he’s not going to have a good year – he’s still a great receiver and there is a chance that he, once again, finishes in the top-10 – but the fact that he had such a historic run of dominance last season and still only finished as WR7 makes me want to stay away from him early on.

Diggs is a much safer pick as he showed his consistency throughout the season and, not only that, the case can be made that this is just the beginning for Diggs. He’s been getting better and better every year since he entered the league, going from WR45 his rookie season to WR37 the next year before jumping to WR19 in 2017 and, finally, WR 10 last year. Additionally, even though his yards per reception were down over three yards from 2017 to 2018, if he even gains some of that back – which I would say is likely – then there’s a chance he will be one of the best wide receivers in the entire league.

Yes, Kirk Cousins does have a tendency to target his slot receiver and considering that Thielen lined up in the slot 46.7 percent of the time last year (about 30 percent more than Diggs) according to PlayerProfiler.com, it does greatly benefit him. However, even with this, Diggs actually averaged slightly more targets per game than Thielen, despite running significantly less of his routes from the slot.Thielen does have a higher catch rate, beating Diggs out 72.9 percent to 68.9 percent. However, if you look at true catch rate, which measures the number of receptions made on catchable targets, Diggs actually edges out Thielen 87.2 percent to 86.3 percent.

I’m expecting a bounce-back year for this offense. They’ve beefed up their offensive line, drafted tight end Irv Smith Jr. who should be a contributor, and – I hesitate to say it – will have a full season of “healthy” Dalvin Cook paired with rookie Alexander Mattison in the backfield. As long as Cousins can play like he’s shown he’s capable of doing, I see Stefon Diggs as the No.1 weapon in what has the potential to be a high powered offense in the Twin Cities.

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