What’s Going On With Adam Thielen?

Adam Thielen is having a slow start to the season according to his stats compared to the previous seasons. The famed red zone target is currently only at 2 receiving touchdowns after 6 weeks of football as the offense has found itself attempting to rediscover an identity under the new O’Connell system, and although he seems to be on the upswing in production, he’s still leaving a bit to be desired as the number 2 target. Some may say it’s taking time to adjust to a new system, others may cite his old age finally catching up to him, but which is it? More importantly, what can be done to fix it?

To address the adjustments to a new system, it’s hard to blame this one to any extreme amount. Thielen’s had a new offensive coordinator every year for the past 6 seasons, which isn’t an easy task to partake in. It’s notable however, that he’s still managed productive seasons regardless of the scheme changes. It hasn’t mattered too greatly who’s calling the plays or what the plays are designed for as Thielen’s always managed to find the end zone regardless. A bigger note for the scheme change may just be that Thielen is less targetable in the new scheme. It’s one thing to adjust, it’s another entirely to see your involvement intentionally dialed back. The current system seems to lean mostly on Justin Jefferson as the KOC system seemingly relies on a receiver operating as the workhorse throughout the game rather than a single running back like Todd Gurley or Dalvin Cook. It appears that Thielen is becoming more involved as the weeks progress but it’s interesting that the offense didn’t immediately utilize him the way we’ve previously seen.

Usage is one thing, but it’s also important to remember just how old Thielen is. At 32 years old, Thielen took until 2016 to truly break out as a receiver and since then he’s been nothing short of a reliable target. However his late bloom has meant he’s only managed to be productive for so long, and as we know, father time is undefeated. I don’t think it’d be a stretch to say Thielen is beginning to slow down, however I would say that it isn’t what’s holding him back. Thielen’s strengths were always his route running and his hands, and neither can really be greatly affected by old age, if anything they’d improve with experience. To say he’s slowed down is justifiable, but to say he’s regressed at what he’s exceptional at is entirely different.

The true answer could likely be a combination of both. Thielen is beginning to slow down and his usage is shifting more in favor of his younger, talented counterpart. It happens, guys get a little slower and see their role minimized for the sake of using them only when needed in favor of keeping their legs fresh for such opportunities. Thielen isn’t a bell cow receiver, but he’s still one of the most efficient red zone targets in the league. It’d be much more reassuring to see him used in that way, and it seems his slow increase in usage would signify that. Nothing serious is wrong with Thielen, he’s just had an abnormally slow start.
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