Adam Thielen’s fantasy outlook and projection for 2021

Coming off a career-high in touchdown receptions a year ago, should you draft Adam Thielen with his fantasy outlook and ADP in 2021?

If not for the play of a rookie phenom, Minnesota Vikings WR Adam Thielen would have been in the conversation for one of the more impressive performances of 2020. With a new season getting closer by the day, is Thielen a value at his current ADP, and what is his fantasy football outlook for the 2021 season?

Adam Thielen’s fantasy outlook for 2021

We went into the 2020 season wondering if Theilen would be able to keep the Vikings’ passing offense afloat alongside some rookie out of LSU after they traded Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills. Well, I think it went pretty well for all parties involved.

Appearing in 15 games, Thielen recorded 74 receptions on 108 targets for 925 yards. On their own, these were right in line with his 2016-2019 average of 75.8 receptions, 109.5 targets, and 1,008.5 yards. What set his season apart were the career-high 14 touchdowns. Not only was Thielen third amongst WRs in TDs, but he had the highest touchdown percentage at 12.96%.

It was Thielen’s third top-10 fantasy finish in his last four years. And his 3.4 fantasy points per reception ranked 10th amongst WRs with 30 or more targets. As the WR10 overall, Thielen averaged 16.9 ppg and posted WR1 finishes in 40% of his weeks (6) and WR2 or better in 53% (8).

Thielen is one of the best red-zone threats in the NFL

Playing next to Justin Jefferson, who was breaking records seemingly every week, Thielen saw 24.1% of the targets but led the team with 23 targets in the red zone and 13 in the end zone. This matters because 13 of Thielen’s 14 touchdowns came in the red zone.

Thielen enters 2021 as Kirk Cousins’ favorite red-zone option and is locked in as one of two primary threats on the offense. The time has come and gone where Thielen will see 140+ targets, but where Jefferson can help move the ball on chunk plays, Thielen will reap the rewards in the red zone. 

No question, Thielen’s TDs will come back down, but he should still push for double-digits. The issue is he could be a boom-or-bust WR in 2021. Given the relatively low volume, Thielen will be more touchdown-dependent than other WRs. While I do believe he will return WR2/3 value, I would not advise drafting him if you want to get a low-end WR1.

Thielen’s fantasy projection

While his 31 years of age jumps off the page, there is reason to be hopeful for Thielen to put together a reliable fantasy season in 2021. 

While there was a change at offensive coordinator, I would not be concerned about how this may impact Thielen and his fantasy outlook. After all, Klint Kubiak is literally Gary Kubiak’s son. 

Thielen could struggle if the Vikings’ defense is as improved as we think it might be in 2021. Not only did they re-sign Anthony Barr, but they brought in DT Dalvin Tomlinson, CB Patrick Peterson, DL Sheldon Richardson, DE Stephen Weatherly, CB Mackensie Alexander, and CB Bashaud Breeland.

This is important because last season, the Vikings’ defense was one of the worst in football and forced the offense to play from behind. In neutral game scripts alone, the Vikings threw the third-fewest amount at just 50% compared to the league average of 57%. In negative game scripts, they are league average at 66% when trailing by seven or more points. If the defense keeps the team in more competitive games, we should expect to see a more run-focused offense with Dalvin Cook at the center of it.

I bring this up for Thielen as he already is a lower-volume type receiver. Sure, he saw 24% of the targets. But 24% on a run-based team like Minnesota is vastly different from a 24% share of the Pittsburgh Steelers, which would have been 156 targets, not 108. If we keep stripping back volume, the dependency on TDs for fantasy value rises to an uncomfortable level.

Based on early projections, Theilen could end up with around 105 targets, 70 receptions, 875-900 yards, and 8 touchdowns, placing him in the WR24-WR28 range (0.5 PPR).

Adam Thielen’s fantasy ADP

According to Sleeper, Thielen is currently the WR20 with an ADP of 52.4 in PPR formats. In superflex formats, where quarterbacks have an increased value, he falls a bit to 63.2. Meanwhile, in NFC (a high-stakes fantasy platform), Thielen is the WR22 with a 49.01 ADP.

Should you draft Adam Thielen in 2021 for fantasy?

I understand the appeal of drafting Thielen. Everyone likes him. He’s been a consistent player for several years and is the heartbeat of that organization. However, given where he is going in drafts, I don’t know if he is someone I want on my team in 2021.

If Thielen slid into the WR3 range, I wouldn’t have an issue as the risk is baked into the value. You can take those weeks where he doesn’t score and is a WR40 or worse (six times in 2020) a bit easier. Because you know the multi-score upside is in there, and there will be weeks where Thielen is a WR1. But when there are all of these question marks from age, volume, and touchdown dependency, is there any room left for upside?

Just looking at players going in the same range of drafts, there’s Ja’Marr Chase, CeeDee Lamb, Tyler Lockett, D.J. Moore, Brandon Aiyuk, and Kenny Golladay. I would say every one of those WRs has a higher ceiling. When you mix in other positions, guys like Dak Prescott, Kareem Hunt, Javonte Williams, Russell Wilson, and Mark Andrews come into play. 

It’s a loaded spot in the draft. While it is always roster dependant, it’s unlikely I will have many shares of Thielen on my fantasy teams this season if his ADP does not change. 

Tommy Garrett is a Fantasy Analyst for Pro Football Network and is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.