The Vikings feature two of the league’s top five receiver deep threats. 2017 catch rate statistics say so, and the Vikings are the only NFL team that can make that boast.

No receiving duo was better than Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Diggs caught 50 percent of deep balls thrown his way, according to Pro Football Focus, and Thielen caught 45.5 percent.

They’re not going to catch any opponent by surprise this year after Thielen’s breakout 2017 and Diggs’ $40 million in guarantees on a five-year extension signed this offseason.

Thielen already has seen the difference from just two years ago, when some Bengals defensive backs refused to take reps against him in a joint practice, saying they wanted to go against “some dogs.” In their preseason matchup, the Jaguars’ reigning No. 2 defense knew to respect Thielen.

“I think the only thing is that maybe this year they wanted to go against me to try and say, ‘Oh, he’s not that good,’ ” Thielen said. “Or try to shut me down because of what I’ve done in the past.”

But quarterback Kirk Cousins is going to need good protection to throw the ball farther than 20 yards.

That’s why there’s no position group more important for the 2018 Vikings offense than its line, which enters the Sept. 9 opener against San Francisco a patchworked group featuring two new guards — Tom Compton and Mike Remmers — and likely a new center until Pat Elflein returns healthy from a troublesome shoulder.

Cousins Needs a Strong Line

At least statistically, Kirk Cousins went from a mediocre quarterback under pressure to top 10 when the Washington Redskins offensive line kept him clean. So goes the pressure applied to this year’s Vikings offensive line, which has a recently mediocre to downright poor history of keeping their quarterbacks free of defenders.

Year Player Dropbacks Pressured Rank
2017 Case Keenum 39.3% t-6th
2016 Sam Bradford 33.1% t-16th
2015 Teddy Bridgewater 46.7% 1st
2014 Teddy Bridgewater 39.7% 8th
2013 Christian Ponder/Matt Cassel 35.3% 23rd
2012 Christian Ponder 32.1% 19th

Kirk Cousins’ passer rating under pressure vs. kept clean

Year Pressure Ranking Clean Ranking
2017 19th 10th
2016 13th 8th
2015 17th 2nd

“If our five best guys were five tackles, and one tackle has to learn how to snap the football, you go play,” co-offensive line coach Clancy Barone said. “That kind of has to be the mind-set for us.”

The offensive line quietly improved last season but has changed in major ways: Position coach Tony Sparano died July 22; veteran center/guard Joe Berger retired; reserve guard/tackle Jeremiah Sirles left in free agency; Remmers, signed as a right tackle, moved to right guard; left guard Nick Easton is likely done for the season, again, with Compton taking his place. Center Brett Jones, the 27-year-old Canadian with 13 starts last season, was acquired from the Giants on Aug. 26 for a seventh-round pick.

Got all that?

That’s where Barone and Andrew Janocko, named co-line coaches, are left to work some magic.

Barone is a veteran coach who moved to the line after leading the Vikings’ tight ends. Janocko, 30, spent a season as Sparano’s assistant.

“He understood Tony’s thoughts on this guy was strong at this, not strong at this,” Barone said. “I can’t ask Tony, obviously. Andrew was in those meetings. He understands a lot of the backstory on these guys. … He’s a tremendous help in that regard.”

The Vikings will need his help — and that of the entire line — for the Diggs-Thielen tandem to repeat as dangerous deep threats.