Do not look now, however the Minnesota Vikings have emerged as one of many high groups within the NFL.
The Vikings are 7-2 and have a commanding two-game lead within the NFC North. They sport one of many NFL’s high defenses and solely 5 groups have a greater total level differential.
One cause for the advance has been the offensive line, which crippled this franchise a season in the past. It is definitely not one of many high models within the league this yr, however it’s been much better, and has allowed Minnesota’s ability gamers to shine.
However there’s additionally been hardship on the offensive aspect of the ball in 2017.
Quarterback Sam Bradford was terrific to start out the season towards the Saints, however is now on injured reserve. The offense has since been backup Case Keenum’s present, though Teddy Bridgewater is now accessible to play.
The Vikings additionally misplaced phenomenal rookie operating again Dalvin Cook dinner after simply 4 video games. Cook dinner rapidly proved to be a difference-maker, and there is been a transparent drop-off to Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray.
In the meantime, Minnesota has solely gotten seven video games from its presumed No. 1 large receiver, Stefon Diggs, who’s battled accidents this season. He is put up some massive numbers when wholesome, however has additionally produced some lackluster performances.
So, with all of the transferring components on the Vikings’ offense, what’s been the fixed? Clearly Keenum is exceeding expectations. He is been poised and productive below strain, is throwing the ball nicely, has proven the athletic capability to increase performs, not often takes sacks, and values the soccer.
However perhaps most significantly, Keenum is getting the ball to the one true fixed, and an enormous cause why the Vikings sit at 7-2: Adam Thielen.
Actually, this 27-year-old wideout has taken a really unconventional path to stardom – signed in 2014 as an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota State – however he is produced like a participant with elite pedigree.
Within the first sport of the season, Thielen torched New Orleans for 157 yards on 9 catches. On Sunday, he did the identical to Washington with 166 yards on eight grabs. In between, he is been regular and dependable, however has additionally been a big-play man whom defenses should honor down the sphere.
Thielen’s nearly at all times precisely the place he is purported to be on every play, and routinely shows glorious timing with Keenum.
In doing so, he is racked up 793 receiving yards by means of 9 video games – third within the NFL – and is the one participant with not less than 5 receptions in each sport. He is been focused 33 extra instances than some other Vikings receiver and has 19 extra receptions than Kyle Rudolph, who’s second in each classes and is having a constant season in his personal proper.
Thielen is hard, together with being a pointy, crisp route runner with excellent fingers. He has excellent physique management, higher velocity and quickness than he is given credit score for, and shows glorious footwork total. His consistency is impeccable, not simply on a week-to-week foundation, but in addition on a route-to-route. When he catches the ball, it normally ends in a primary down.
You’ll be able to simply see why Keenum – or any quarterback for that matter – would belief him in any down-and-distance state of affairs. Keenum is aware of precisely the place Thielen will likely be, and that he’ll come by means of for him. Few receivers within the NFL supply such a stage of consolation to their quarterback.
However Keenum can preserve the Vikings on observe because the starter, and a large cause why is his implausible on-field chemistry with Thielen, Minnesota’s greatest participant to this point in 2017.
Matt Williamson is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and spent 10 years at ESPN as a scout and co-host of “The Soccer In the present day Podcast.” Discover him on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL.
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