Figuring Out the Thielen and Diggs Fantasy Football Conundrum
Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs make up arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL, especially now that Antonio Brown is no longer with the Steelers. After a decent 2016 season, both Thielen and Diggs finished as the WR9 and WR20 in 2017, then further climbed the ladder to finish WR6 and WR12 last year. The acquisition of Kirk Cousins and OC John DeFilippo certainly helped accelerate Thielen and Diggs’ rise to the top-15.
This year, under new OC Kevin Stefanski, or rather, Gary Kubiak, we could be looking at both wide receivers finishing in the top-10 in fantasy production. The big question we fantasy GMs want to know is which player is going to finish with the most fantasy points and which one we should draft.
Let’s look back at Thielen and Diggs in 2018 as well some key changes in the Vikings coaching staff that may give us some insight to help answer this question.
A Look Back at Thielen and Diggs in 2018
Except for the yards and fantasy finishes, the degree of separation between the dynamic duo is so minute, it’s almost unfair to quantify. In half-PPR, Diggs finished with just 15 points shy of making that top-10 WR list, doing better than T.Y. Hilton, Odell Beckham Jr., and Tyler Lockett. Even the Ultimate Draft Kit’s Market Share report has Thielen and Diggs nearly identical to each other in terms of targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns percentages as well as the percentage of fantasy points scored for the Vikings.
Purchase the 2019 Ultimate Draft Kit to see the full Market Share Report for 2018.
Thielen and Diggs both finished in the top-10 in terms of fantasy targets at 8th and 9th respectively. Thielen barely edged out Diggs in target average by 0.8%.
It’s not difficult to tell why this question of who should be on your team is coming into full focus for 2019. To gain a better insight, let’s take a look at what has changed from last year as we move into next season.
New OC “Kevin Stefanski” aka Gary Kubiak
“I’ve called exactly three games in this league, so I don’t feel I’ve figured this whole thing out” – Kevin Stefanski via The Star Tribune.
If you didn’t know this already, one of the first things Stefanski did when he finally got the offensive coordinator position was to request the addition of Gary Kubiak, his son Klint Kubiak, as well as two of their long-time assistants to be a part of his offensive coaching staff.
A 13-year veteran in the Vikings’ organization, Stefanski may feel he is in a bit over his head. The Star Tribune also inferred that he is practically giving the reins to the Kubiak regime. Gary Kubiak added, “He could have come in here and bull-horned us into what we’re doing. He said, ‘No — let’s talk your language. I can catch up.’ I expected that, because of what I knew about him.”
Hypothetically, let’s say this is going to be more of a Kubiak offense than a Stefanski offense. Since 1995, Kubiak has run a wonderfully balanced pass vs. the rush offense, averaging 47% of his plays being run, leaving 53% as pass plays. Of course, the lion’s share of those passing plays goes to the WR position at 55%, with 23% targeting the TE, and only 15% going to RBs. This is exactly the kind of offense that Zimmer was looking for from former OC John DeFilippo. Because it’s Zimmer, I do expect the run game to be more heavily involved in the play calling, but we’re still looking at a closer split of pass vs. run plays.
This fact alone leads me to believe that Thielen is the biggest loser in the Minnesota offense in terms of volume. Fewer passing plays equals fewer targets. So, if this means less work for the WRs, how does this affect Diggs? We can take a look at what happened after DeFilippo was released and extrapolate that information.
After Week 13, when Zimmer and Stefanski were the HC and interim OC, Thielen’s usage completely changed and Diggs began to emerge as the WR1. Remember, this was the Dalvin Cook resurgence at the end of last year. If the Vikings plan to use a more balanced pass vs. run playcalling, it seems Diggs is going to be the player emerging as the WR beneficiary.
See also Five WRs Who Could Lose Targets in 2019 by Ryan Weisse for more information on Thielen and Diggs.
However, does this mean that Thielen will be completely phased out of the offense? Absolutely not. He is far too talented and such an integral part of the offensive strategy, that it’s completely unfeasible to say Thielen won’t see a significant workload.
On top of that, Kirk Cousins is no slouch. While he may not have entered the QB “Elite” category, Cousins is still talented and can produce at a high level. In his first year with Minnesota, Cousins had 606 pass attempts (4th highest in the league), 425 completions, for 4,298 yards with a career-high 70.1% pass completion percentage. He has a 75.9% true completion percentage, 75.2% play-action completion, 66.7% red zone completion, and a 49.7% pressure completion per Player Profiler.
The bottom line here is that no matter how you look at the Vikings and their upcoming 2019 season, it will always come down to evaluating a pretty darn good offense. With Stefanski calling in the big guns with Kubiak and Co., another year for Kirk Cousins to get comfortable in the offense, and a more balanced offensive approach, this altogether improves the offense as a whole moving forward.
Will there be target regression for both Thielen and Diggs? The abundance of targets will drop for these WRs but not significantly enough to discount them, as well as the other skilled positions on the team. However, this question remains about which WR do you target in your draft. It boils down to how much draft capital you are willing to risk. Thielen is currently being drafted at 3.05 position, which may be too expensive for you or doesn’t work with the strategy you have planned. The beautiful thing about this offense is that you can wait for another round for Diggs at the 4.02 and still have an impactful WR on the Vikings who should see more quality targets on a more balanced run vs. pass offense.
If you still want more information on Thielen, Diggs, and the Vikings, please check out their metrics in the 2019 Ultimate Draft Kit. You can compare their reception perception data, see market and target share reports, plan a strategy based on their tier breakdowns, as well as see how these two players have produced within the red zone and the 10s. Also, check out the Ballers episode #741 NFC North Breakdown, Stack Attack, Chicken Salad.