When the first-team Minnesota Vikings offense failed to reach the endzone in four preseason games, fans were worried that an offense that sputtered down the stretch in 2016 would continue into 2017.
Through three games in 2017, though, the Vikings offense is the league’s second-ranked unit, averaging just over 400 yards per game. While an improved offensive line and a solid running game have helped, the standout players in the first three games have been the one-two punch of receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Together they have led an explosive passing game, ranking second and third in receiving yards this season, respectively. This comes even with starting quarterback Sam Bradford missing the past two games with a knee injury.
Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs Form a Strong One-Two Punch in Minnesota
Entering Week Three’s matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the national media was talking about a strong receiving duo. It wasn’t aimed towards the purple, however. Experts talked at length about Tampa Bay’s star duo that featured 6’5″ physical specimen Mike Evans and longtime speedster DeSean Jackson. Evans, drafted in the first round in 2014, and Jackson, a three-time Pro Bowler, are recognizable stars nationally, so it’s hard to fault the talking heads for being enamored with them.
After the game, however, it was hard to argue that the Bucs had a stronger receiving duo than the Vikings. Thielen, an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota State in 2013, brought in five receptions for 98 yards, giving him a total of 19 receptions for 299 yards through three games. Diggs, a fifth-round pick out of Maryland in 2015, caught eight passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns. This gave him 293 yards on the season and a league-leading four touchdown receptions.
Stretching the Field
Even though their talents are sometimes overlooked by fans and members of other teams, Thielen and Diggs have been productive for a few years now. In his first two seasons, Diggs had season totals of 720 and 903 yards receiving in limited playing time due to injuries. Last year as a full-time starter for the first time, Thielen racked up 967 yards receiving.
However, these yardage totals didn’t always translate to the Vikings moving the ball efficiently through the air. While Diggs averaged 13.8 yards per catch in 2015, that number dropped to 10.8 yards last year. Thielen averaged a healthy 14 yards per reception in 2016, but too often couldn’t stretch the field as consistently as the team would have preferred. An injured offensive line forced Sam Bradford to throw quick, short passes and held Diggs and Thielen back from showcasing their full skill set.
After an off-season that gave the line a makeover, the Vikings have been able to give Bradford and backup quarterback Case Keenum more time to let plays develop, thus opening up a lethal passing game. Not only have Thielen and Diggs averaged more yards per reception this year (Thielen with 15.7, Diggs with 17.2), but when passes are coming their way, the ball isn’t hitting the ground often. According to Pro Football Focus, Thielen’s 19 receptions have come off of only 24 targets (79.2 percent). Diggs’ 17 catches have been from 25 targets (68 percent). Among the NFL’s top ten receiving yards leaders this year, Thielen has the best target percentage, while Diggs is fifth.
Making A Name for Themselves
Most fans think that wide receiver is a diva position. After years of players like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Chad Johnson garnering attention for what they did off the field as much as they did on it, players like Odell Beckham have carried the stereotype on. This isn’t the case in Minnesota, though, as Thielen and Diggs carry themselves with quiet confidence. Thielen doesn’t have many elaborate touchdown celebrations, and while Diggs will spin the ball after a first down and break out a few dances in the end zone, he isn’t somebody that will keep the media hanging on every word he says.
They can mark their place in a new era of Vikings football, however. Minnesota hasn’t had a 1,000 yard receiver since Sidney Rice in 2009, the longest active streak in the league. At their current pace, both Thielen and Diggs could break that streak. If both players reach that milestone, they will be the first Vikings duo to each break 1,000 yards since Moss and Cris Carter in 2000.
After ten seasons with running back Adrian Peterson being the face of the franchise, fans wondered how the team would transition from a run-first offense into a more modern, pass-oriented offense. With Thielen and Diggs leading the way, the Vikings finally have an offense that can compliment one of the league’s top defenses.