Adam Thielen or Justin Jefferson: Who is the better fantasy play?

What a wide receiver duo Minnesota has. As great as Stefon Diggs was for the Vikings and as great as he is playing in Buffalo, the Vikings have actually ably (and cheaply) replaced him with Justin Jefferson. Since moving outside to be a full-time starter, Jefferson has clearly been the best rookie receiver in the NFL in a year loaded with exceptional rookie talent at that position. Not only that, Jefferson has been an outstanding wide receiver by any standards, while Adam Thielen is playing as well as ever. Can both wide receivers be fantasy football weapons this week?

Vikings wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen fantasy outlook

The Vikings’ pair of wide receivers are excellent and can rival any pairing in the league at this point. However, Dalvin Cook remains the foundation of this offense. Not only is that true as a runner but Cook continues to improve in the passing game. He is a great receiver, and throwing him the ball is a staple of Minnesota’s attack.

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Cook has been particularly impressive after first contact in the passing game. Needless to say, Cook is going to get the ball a ton. Plus, Alexander Mattison looks ready to return this week. Expect the Vikings’ backfield to eat up a very high percentage of the touches against the Bears. Taking this even a step further, Chicago’s offense is unlikely to put up a huge number of points early in this game to force the Vikings into a catch-up mode where they won’t lean on their running backs. Minnesota’s running game should remain a constant from start to finish against Chicago.

What the run game means for fantasy?

That isn’t great news for Vikings wide receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, especially in fantasy. A trend we have seen from the Bears defense is that they are excellent in limiting the production of the wide receiver position. This is even more true when we narrow it down to true number one wide receivers. That also isn’t great news for Thielen and Jefferson this week. The obvious problem here is which of the Vikings’ wide receivers will Chicago look at as the top guy?

In terms of target share, 60.3% of the passing attempts in this offense go to the Vikings’ wide receivers. The Vikings’ wide receivers have been targeted a combined 229 times this year. But 183 of those have gone to Thielen and Jefferson, who has 92 targets compared to 91 for Thielen. The Vikings’ next most targeted player at the position, Chad Beebe, has only been thrown to 25 times in 2020.

Irv Smith is healthy now and has been impressive. He played quite well in Week 14 with Kyle Rudolph sidelined. Expect Smith, an up-and-coming player, to demand more passes thrown his way, and he should see very favorable coverage matchups with all the attention defenses give to Thielen and Jefferson.

Justin Jefferson has been one of the most impressive rookies this season

While he is not quite Tyreek Hill in terms of downfield speed, only three receivers in the league average more yards per catch than Justin Jefferson’s 16.6. Therefore, Jefferson has 318 more receiving yards than Thielen even though his role in the first two weeks of the season was minimal. Jefferson has been targeted 48 times over the last five weeks.

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Comparing Adam Thielen and his fantasy production to Justin Jefferson’s, Thielen has only appeared in a dozen games this year (one fewer than Jefferson). He was just targeted four times last week against Tampa Bay. That is a small blip on the radar though, as Thielen saw 12 targets in each of the two previous games. He is also averaging a touchdown reception per game, which is rather remarkable.

Jefferson has scored seven times, which is nothing to sneeze at either. It should be noted that Jefferson’s ridiculous efficiency (which was probably unsustainable) has dropped somewhat in the second half of the season, but his volume has increased. That balances things out. If we just look at yards per route run, Thielen averages two yards of production every time he runs a route, which is quite good.

However, Jefferson’s number in this very telling metric sits at 2.66. That is outstanding for any wideout, let alone a rookie.

What happened the last time Minnesota played Chicago?

In Week 10, the Vikings went to Chicago and prevailed with a 19-13 victory. In that game, Thielen was thrown at four times. Jefferson was targeted on eight occasions. Thielen found the end zone twice, but Jefferson racked up 135 yards as well as a 54-yarder. Chicago treated Thielen as the number one receiver. Just Jefferson killed them and put up impressive fantasy numbers. However, they still lost the game. Will they switch that strategy up?

Cousins has been under a lot of pass-rush pressure this year, and that is unlikely to change against the Bears. But the Vikings also throw the ball downfield as much as any offense in the league with slower developing deep routes. Only the Chiefs and Packers average more yards per drop back than Minnesota in 2020. This is one of the NFL’s best offenses at creating explosive plays in both the run and pass game, and the Bears defense does allow too many big plays – one of Chicago’s biggest defensive weaknesses. Thielen and especially Jefferson, are very capable of generating a big play against Chicago.

For fantasy football reasons, obviously, both Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are starters, and every fantasy owner would be very happy to own either. Chances are that Chicago will again target Thielen. He is more established as the Vikings’ number one player at the position. Also, if we are playing the percentages, Jefferson is the one that is more likely to have an explosive play.

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