Adam Thielen Fantasy Outlook: Can This Veteran WR Remain Relevant?

    He's a 33-year-old WR trying to help elevate the rebuilding Carolina Panthers. What is Adam Thielen's fantasy outlook in 2023?

    At PFN, we’ve researched more than 350 fantasy football players, trying to identify which ones are overrated, underrated, and priced right. With that in mind, here is Carolina Panthers WR Adam Thielen’s fantasy outlook for 2023.

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    Adam Thielen’s 2023 Fantasy Outlook

    It’s easy to forget how many teams passed over Thielen in the 2013 NFL Draft. The answer is “all of them.” The Minnesota State graduate showed well at an ancillary combine (not the actual NFL Combine), including running a 4.45 40-yard dash.

    Instead, 28 other college wide receivers came off the board that year, and Thielen was signed by his hometown Vikings as an undrafted rookie. He was then cut and put on the practice squad, with only two preseason catches to his name.

    Fast-forward a decade. Only three wideouts selected in 2013 have racked up more career receiving yards than Thielen has, despite the fact that he had only 30 catches for 281 yards by the time he turned 26 in 2016.

    Imagine what Thielen could have been if he’d earned a real shot back in 2013. Three extra seasons and possibly three 1,000+ yard campaigns. He might have been viewed as one of the best WRs of the past decade.

    Instead, Thielen took the football world (and fantasy world) by storm beginning in 2016, and he never really looked back. Injuries cut some seasons short, and while last year’s statistical fade is likely a sign of things to come, Thielen has been a consistently good-to-great fantasy option for seven straight years.

    Thielen’s fundamentals are off the charts, having dropped three passes or less in four of his last five campaigns — including only three since the start of 2021. He’s a superb route runner. Most notably, he was once the best red-zone receiver in the game.

    That’s not hyperbole. For example, from 2019 to 2021, Thielen caught 21 of 24 targets for 18 touchdowns inside the opposing 10-yard line. Those are insane numbers, and if he was on your fantasy team, this proved to be the difference between “good” and “great” production.

    Last year, however, Thielen took a step back in this department, reeling in only four of eight targets for three scores. While it’s too early to know if this is a sign of things to come, certainly shifting from experienced QB Kirk Cousins to rookie Bryce Young could mean trouble.

    And by “trouble,” I mean it could take a while for Thielen and Young to develop the timing needed to consistently capitalize on such opportunities.

    Speaking of which, as great as Young is, it often takes time for even the best rookie quarterbacks to acclimate to the NFL. Peyton Manning, Jalen Hurts, Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence, and so many others have often struggled in Year 1. Many who have thrived (like Patrick Mahomes) had a year or two (or three) to develop on the sidelines before they got the nod.

    Thielen’s fantasy production thus far has stemmed from many factors, including his own abilities, of course. But also, he’s had a quarterback in Cousins who’s been able to get him the ball.

    Cousins has cleared 4,000 receiving yards in seven of his last eight seasons. That’s not easy to do, and although he’s enjoyed terrific receivers along the way, we can’t simply replace Cousins with a rookie QB and expect Thielen to remain fantasy-relevant.

    Additionally, the Panthers’ receiving corps is more packed than the Vikings’ has been. Thielen is accustomed to being a top-two option, but he’s not assured of that in Carolina. Yes, he might stand out if things break right. But guys like DJ Chark, rookie Jonathan Mingo, and Terrace Marshall Jr. loom.

    Mingo and Marshall were second-round picks. Carolina envisioned them as offensive mainstays.

    Thielen isn’t a long-term answer on this team. He’s a stop-gap measure to give Young a veteran presence downfield and to possibly help mentor the otherwise young receiving corps.

    In other words, we shouldn’t be surprised if Chark or Mingo becomes the 1A wideout, and we also shouldn’t sleep on the talented Marshall.

    At 33 years old, Thielen is nearly a dinosaur by NFL WR standards. He regressed last year while his yards after the catch plummeted. He’s increasingly a possession receiver rather than a true playmaker.

    Given all the other headwinds on a new team in transition, Thielen’s outlook appears dim. We might witness a 60-650-3 campaign at best, but his days as a weekly fantasy starter appear over.

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