The Vikings agreed to a multi-year contract extension with Adam Thielen earlier this month, keeping the Minnesota native in Purple for the long run.
As Thielen, an undrafted free agent in 2013, prepares for his seventh season, it's no secret that he has risen to become one of the NFL's top receivers over the past three years.
Analytics site Pro Football Focus recently looked specifically at his success inside, saying that Thielen "exhibited a slot prowess akin to that of recent greats."
PFF's Ben Cooper pointed out that when Thielen began to break out in 2016, he took more than 70 percent of his snaps on the outside. But "following the league-wide trend of lining up top receiving options in the slot, it led to more snaps on the inside, where Thielen continued to improve upon the fundamentals that now have him slated as an elite slot target."
_In 2017 and 2018 combined, Thielen took 52.7 percent of his snaps from the slot — a marked difference from his early years. His seamless progression is almost unfathomable — he racked up more than 700 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018 from the inside (his first season taking more than 50 percent of his snaps from the slot), a feat Wes Welker accomplished just once in his 12-year career. _
A more in-depth look into Thielen's profound 2018 season provides even more evidence as to the type of player he is. He led the league in slot receptions and was one of the most efficient receivers on deep throws from the position. On passes targeted 20 or more yards downfield to wide outs lined up in a slot position, Thielen was one of four to haul in three touchdowns while accumulating 150 yards or more. On shorter throws (10 or fewer yards downfield), Thielen was also a force as one of four receivers to reel in three scores while racking up 300 or more yards. As long as he's on the field, opposing defenses have reason to worry.
According to Cooper, "all evidence pointed to Thielen being a top receiver" after a 2017 campaign in which PFF gave him an 82.4 grade, but last season "provided an entirely new glimpse into just how valuable he can be to the Vikings offense."
Brooks groups 2019 NFL Draft prospects into tiers
Time will tell which of the players drafted this weekend will have the biggest impact on their respective teams.
There's plenty of evaluation done ahead of time by analysts, however, including by NFL Media's Bucky Brooks, who recently grouped 2019's top prospects into three tiers: All-Pro, Pro Bowl and Red Star.
Brooks called his projected All-Pros "the elite prospects in the class" and said that they should "rank among the top five players at their respective positions in two to three years." He ordered the seven athletes as follows:
Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama
Nick Bosa, Edge, Ohio State
Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State
Devin White, LB, LSU
Josh Allen, Edge, Kentucky
T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
Brooks wrote the following of the next group of players:
These prospects are regarded as difference makers based solely on their talent. They should make immediate contributions as rookies and rank among the top 10 at their position within two to three years.
He included 18 players in the Pro Bowl category, topping his list with Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray, Houston DT Ed Oliver and Florida T Jawaan Taylor.
Next, the "Red Stars" category.
On the "Move the Sticks" podcast, [NFL Media analyst] Daniel Jeremiah and I have previously discussed how scouts will stand on the table for guys they believe will outperform their draft status. In the scouting world, these players are called "red star" guys because they are destined to make their mark in the league, regardless of where they are drafted.
Brooks listed five players as red-star prospects: Ole Miss T Greg Little, Washington S Taylor Rapp, Maryland S Darnell Savage, Baylor WR Jalen Hurd and Louisiana Tech edge rusher Jaylon Ferguson.
2016 Vikings draft grades led by Weatherly, Clemson teammates
With the 2019 NFL Draft set to kick off tomorrow in Nashville, FOX Sports North took a look back and graded Minnesota's 2016 draft class.
The three most-lauded players three years later were defensive end Stephen Weatherly and former Clemson teammates Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse.
Weatherly, whom the Vikings drafted 227th overall, was given an "A" grade with the following explanation:
Weatherly moved to the defensive line in Minnesota, starting his career on the practice squad and ultimately making just two appearances as a rookie. He was a rotational player by Year 2, playing in 15 games, and emerged as a starter last year, starting six games and filling it admirably while Everson Griffen was away from the team. He finished the season with three sacks and played just over 50 percent of the Vikings defensive snaps in 2018.
Alexander also received an "A" grade, and Kearse was given a "B."
FOX Sports North wrote that Alexander, Minnesota's second-round pick, "shined in [the nickel cornerback] role last year" and was named the Vikings most-improved player by Pro Football Focus. The following was said of Kearse, Minnesota's draftee of 2016:
Kearse has spent much of his first three seasons with the Vikings on special teams but began to make some headway as a backup safety and "big nickel" in Year 3. He started in Week 11 against the Bears, his first since 2016, and played nearly 20 percent of the Vikings defensive snaps last year. It's hard to ask for much more from pick 244 out of 253.