Each offseason, NFL Network does a countdown of the league’s top 100 players as voted upon by their peers. After a 91-catch season, it was no surprise to see Minnesota Vikings receiver Adam Thielen pretty high on the list at No. 36. But something stuck out about NFL Network’s mini feature on Thielen: The players he was compared to weren’t really all that comparable.
Cornerback Damarius Randall says Thielen reminds him of Jordy Nelson. Linebacker Blake Martinez says he’s like Julian Edelman.
While there are some similarities — Nelson is a detailed route runner and routinely wins 50-50 balls and Edelman is effective in the slot — we can probably find better answers.
"He's one of the top receivers period." #NFLTop100
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) June 5, 2018
So which players are statistically comparable to Thielen?
First let’s look at how he appears on paper in some key areas (stats via Pro Football Focus, Mockdraftable, Pro-Football Reference and NFL NextGen):
Similarities: 6-foot-2, 210-pounds, 49.7 percent slot usage, two drops, 26.9 percent target percentage, 107.3 rating on targets
Differences: Ran a 4.71 40-yard dash
Back from a severe injury in 2016, Allen reminded us that he’s one of the best receivers in the league with 102 catches and nearly 1,400 yards. He is similarly sized to Thielen and has the ability to line up all over the field. As you can see in this film breakdown, Allen also succeeds because of tremendous route running ability.
Similarities: 6-foot-2, 198-pounds, 51.6 percent deep catch percentage, 4.46 40-yard dash, 110.9 rating on targets
Differences: Outside receiver only, Jones faces more press coverage with 4.3 yards of cushion at LOS (per NFLNextGen)
While Jones does not line up in the slot like Thielen did last year, they are both outstanding deep threats who can win 50-50 balls with the best receivers in the NFL. Over the last two years, Thielen has 19 catches on 37 deep targets. Nearly 30 percent of Jones’ targets are on throws that travel more than 20 yards — that’s a much higher percentage than 2017 Thielen — but Jones also has the ability to run a myriad of different routes when called upon.
Similarities: 45 slot catches, 13 deep receptions, 12.2 average air yards target, 4.48 40-yard dash
If they were playing pickup basketball, Baldwin and Thielen probably wouldn’t play the same position, but aside from height there are many statistical similarities. Baldwin uses his footwork to gain separation off the line of scrimmage and can win routes on either the inside or the outside. He is outstanding when running deep patterns for Russell Wilson or quick underneath routes over the middle. Baldwin has a slight edge on Thielen with his spectacular hands, posting the best drop rate in the NFL last season.
Similarities: 1.89 percent drop rate, 36 slot receptions, eight deep catches on 20 targets, 104.8 rating when targeted
Differences: 4.57 40-yard dash
Thielen is a little more of a deep threat than Thomas, but both are similarly sized and line up outside and inside. Thomas uses his strength to beat corners, while Thielen is more shifty and flexible.
Similarities: 120.4 rating on targets, 12 deep target catches, 4.46 40, played in slot 62.7 percent in 2016,
Differences: In 2017, Diggs played outside receiver, 6.6 yards of cushion at LOS,
Diggs proved last season he can succeed as a predominately outside receiver who is running a high percentage of his routes deep down the sideline. He uses quickness, competitiveness and a natural ball tracking ability to make plays on contested catches or deep throws that require adjustments in the air.