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TWO Slot Receivers? How do Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson fit together?

Tanishka Mhaskar
June 13th, 2020
Photo: Clutch Points

Justin Jefferson was part of one of the most entertaining teams in recent college football history with the 2019 national champion LSU Tigers. He was a walking highlight reel. He was a YAC ‘yards after catch’ monster. He also played 99% of all snaps in the slot. The Vikings are familiar with slot wide receiver killer Adam Thielen. So… a lot of you may be wondering: how will these two players coexist on the field? 

Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak has all the flexibility in the world with what he decides to do with Jefferson and Thielen. What we should see most is Thielen taking on more of the Diggs role. People think that Jefferson has to come in and replace Diggs, but that will not be the case. Instead, Thielen will replace Diggs and Jefferson will replace Thielen 1.0. 

There is an overblown narrative stating that Adam Thielen can only win in the slot: that he can’t succeed outside. This is actually not true. In fact, over his four years as a starter, Thielen has played just 35.1% of his snaps in the slot. This number is extremely skewed by the 2018 campaign where the John DeFilippo offense consisted primarily of three wide receiver sets. 

Thielen can win on the outside. He has won consistently against the likes of Saints corner Marshon Lattimore and Packers corner Jaire Alexander just to name a few. Thielen can be an intermediate - deep threat: Since 2016, he had 61 receptions of 20 or more yards while his counterpart Diggs had 57. 

Thielen can also be a deep threat. He had 13 less receptions than Diggs, but Thielen missed nearly half the season. It is almost inevitable that he beats Diggs in yet another statistic if he doesn’t pull his hamstring. 

To get a glimpse of the offense when both receivers were predominantly healthy, we can sneak a look at 2018. Cousins’ success rate when hitting Thielen deep has been better. He can, and he will, take on the ‘Stefon Diggs role’ this season. 

With that being said, I believe that it would be in the Vikings’ best interest to cater Jefferson to being a slot killer. At LSU, Jefferson caught the ball in stride and in traffic. He had over 700 yards after the catch. He would turn simple fifteen yard gains into forty yard runs after the catch. He was explosive and reliable. Jefferson posted one of the highest catch radiuses in college football.

In the West Coast zone scheme offense that the Vikings run, full of crossers among other intermediate routes, Jefferson’s best interests are served. Some of the best receivers in the NFL play or played predominantly in the slot with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Thomas, Wes Welker and Marques Colston. Jefferson just gives the Vikings a bit more as he can also stretch the field. He’ll be Kirk Cousins’ best friend. 

It may not seem like the most easily integrated pick of all time when you take a deep dive into Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, but if Gary Kubiak can cater to both of their needs, this offense might not skip a beat in 2020.