Fantasy Court: The Case for Adam Thielen in 2023 (Fantasy Football)

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This article is part of the annual Fantasy Court Series. Don’t forget to check out The Case Against Adam Thielen by Dan Lovi for his opposing view.

Be sure to check out where Adam Thielen is ranked in Andy, Mike, and Jason’s 2023 WR Rankings.

Opening Statement

I stand before this court to defend a victim of ageism. Your honor, my client Adam Thielen is being discriminated against by the fantasy football community because of his age, despite being a talented and healthy player in a favorable situation and at a very reasonable price.

Yes, Adam Thielen has been around the league for a long time. This will be his tenth season as an NFL player, but I’m here to prove he is a value at his current ADP. He is being drafted as the WR53 after a 2022 season in which he only dropped two passes and ran 621 routes, the second most among WRs.

Now he has a new opportunity in Carolina, and his situation is much better than most people realize. Let me tell you why.

Money Talks

First of all, let’s take a look at Adam Thielen’s contract. It’s no secret that the Carolina Panthers are in the middle of a rebuild. Many changes have been happening over there and I’m sure there are still some to come, but some analysts are even stating that the Panthers have a shot at winning the division. I won’t go as far as agreeing with that, but they definitely have been busy trying to turn things around.

And what was the Panthers’ first big move this offseason? Getting Adam Thielen. He is the first player they went for. Only nine days after he was released by the Vikings, they signed him on a three-year, $25 million contract. Yes, they signed DJ Chark a week later and many analysts seem to be sure that he has a lot more left in the tank than Adam Thielen. But Chark signed for only one year and $5 million. 

Believe it or not, money talks, and contracts can say a lot about what a team thinks of its players. As Matt DiSorbo said in this article from his Analyzing Contracts & Cap Space series, Adam Thielen’s contract is telling us that the Panthers believe he might have enough juice left for at least two seasons.

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Assessing The Rookie WR

Of course, DJ Chark won’t be Adam Thielen’s only competition for targets. The Carolina Panthers drafted Jonathan Mingo in the second round of the NFL draft. He has already signed his four-year contract and he is expected to be an important part of the future of this franchise.

There could be a natural “passing of the torch” situation at some point during the season, but there’s no reason to worry about Adam Thielen because of this. Every year some second-round rookie wide receivers become fantasy relevant. Last season it was Christian Watson and George Pickens. In 2021, Elijah Moore and Rondale Moore had their moments. Back in 2020, Tee Higgins was brilliant just like Deebo Samuel and A.J. Brown in 2019. The list goes on, but none of these players were consistently dominant in fantasy during their rookie season. All of them had boom weeks alternated with some lesser ones in which a veteran wide receiver claimed the spotlight. In Jonathan Mingo’s case, that veteran has to be Adam Thielen for the reasons stated above.

To sum up the target competition argument, let’s take a quick look at ADP. Right now Mingo is going as the WR61 and DJ Chark as the WR73. So even though Adam Thielen‘s price has never been as cheap as it is now, the fantasy football community still considers him the Panthers’ WR1. So the people support this stance, your honor.

Red Zone Machine

Since Justin Jefferson arrived in Minnesota in 2020, Adam Thielen became the Vikings’ red zone specialist. In 2022, he ranked fifth among all WRs with a career-high 22 red zone targets. The problem is he only had six touchdowns, which is a very low conversion rate for a player with so many red zone looks. But touchdowns aren’t as sticky as opportunities, so if he continues being used as a red zone threat (and he should be), his TD rate should be closer to what he accomplished in his two previous seasons in Minnesota. 

Season Red Zone Targets TDs Conversion Rate
2020 20 14 70.0%
2021 15 10 66.7%
2022 22 6 27.3%

The red zone is Adam Thielen’s area of expertise. It doesn’t mean he won’t participate in the rest of the field, but it’s a specialty the Panthers valued when they were looking for a veteran WR this offseason. So we should expect a lot of touchdown opportunities coming Thielen’s way in 2023.

Yes, Rookie QB, But…

Bryce Young is expected to be special. As a prospect, scouts were convinced that he was the most NFL-ready quarterback from this draft class, and that’s why Carolina took him with the first overall pick. Reporters have been praising him as well during these training camp weeks, saying that he conducts himself as a franchise QB.

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But everyone gets praised during training camp, so let’s look at the numbers from rookie seasons from QBs who were selected first overall during the past five years, to see what we can expect from Adam Thielen as Bryce Young’s WR1.

Draft Class Rookie QB WR1 WR Finish Fantasy Points Age
2018 Baker Mayfield Jarvis Landry #19 176.6 25
2019 Kyler Murray Larry Fitzgerald #37 139.9 35
2020 Joe Burrow Tee Higgins #30 161.1 21
2021 Trevor Lawrence Marvin Jones #34 143.2 31

This sample shows a lot of age diversity. Larry Fitzgerald was two years older than Adam Thielen’s current age during Kyler Murray’s rookie campaign and he finished as the WR37, 16 spots ahead of Thielen’s ADP. All the rest finished even higher. It might not be exciting to draft Thielen in 2023, but his value is undeniable.

Closing Argument

Adam Thielen has been a serviceable fantasy WR for many years and his career is not over. His contract situation shows us that the Panthers value him more than the Vikings did. He will have the opportunity to show his worth as the top weapon in an offense commanded by a promising young QB. Barring an injury, there’s just no way for him to finish as low as where he’s being drafted. 

Your honor and members of the jury, please buy the dip on Adam Thielen.

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