The Minnesota Vikings wide receiver corps will look vastly different in 2020 than it did a year ago, and Adam Thielen’s leadership will be crucial.
The duo of Diggs and still-Vikings wideout Adam Thielen was one of the more prolific in the NFL the past few seasons. And even though Thielen was banged up with a hamstring injury for much of 2019, both players’ presences on the field were crucial to head coach Mike Zimmer’s squad boasting the league’s eighth-best scoring offense a year ago.
With Diggs gone, there’s going to be much more pressure on Thielen to deliver as Minnesota’s top pass-catching option.
He’ll have some help, of course, namely with a number of players the Vikings added during the offseason via free agency and the NFL Draft. Tajae Sharpe, who came over from a support role with the Tennessee Titans last year, joins a returning tandem of Olabisi Johnson and Chad Beebe.
Yet the majority of attention will likely focus on the two rookies, namely the first-round draft pick, Justin Jefferson, and fellow first-year pro K.J. Osborn.
Thielen, who’ll turn 30 years old before the start of the regular season, is the elder statesman of the group and the most established.
So, understandably, it’ll be up to him to provide the mentorship the overwhelmingly young Minnesota Vikings wide receiver corps.
“I know that I’ve been able to learn from some veterans that came before me as far as how they handled those things and how they helped me become the player I am,” Thielen told ESPN’s Courtney Cronin. “I’m just trying to be that resource for those guys and to know that, hey, when I’m teaching these guys and when I’m talking to them, I’m really talking to myself, because there are a lot of things that I need to get better at.”
Those young Vikings players could do worse than learn from Thielen.
Minnesota fans know Thielen’s story well enough: a 2013 undrafted free-agent addition who spent his first year on the Vikings practice squad and someone who took three full seasons to establish himself as a bona fide offensive weapon.
One could make the argument these kinds of players serve as better mentors than those who have the sheer talent and abilities right out of the gate. It should go without saying Thielen had to work a bit harder and prove himself a lot more than many a first- or second-round NFL Draft pick, who is frequently afforded much more opportunity than an undrafted free agent.
Those lessons and experiences carry a lot of weight, and those are the traits the Vikings are expecting Thielen to pass along to players like Jefferson, Osborn, Sharpe, Johnson and Beebe.
“I’m just going to continue to work on being an all-around good football player, and I would assume that these other guys are doing the same thing,” Thielen added.
There’s naturally going to be a lot of hype around Jefferson, whose 2019 campaign on LSU’s championship squad propelled him towards the top of many a draft board. And while fans should rightfully be excited about Jefferson’s projections at the pro level, it’s always wise to dampen immediate expectations a bit. Transitioning from the college ranks to the pros is never easy, and first-year wide receivers rarely find instant success.
Yet the transition is always made easier if a veteran like Thielen is available to proverbially help players “learn the ropes.”
For the first-year rookies, few could provide as unique and established a veteran presence than Thielen, and that should be one of the better storylines to watch when the Minnesota Vikings kick off training camp later this summer.