Silver linings are few and far between for the Vikings’ 28th-ranked offense limited by both player and coaching turnover during the 2016 season.
But one bright spot includes the seeds of a productive passing game, which were evident whenever Sam Bradford had the time and/or play call to take a deeper shot toward Adam Thielen, the Vikings’ leading receiver who enjoyed a breakout year.
Thielen caught many defenders off guard by not only lining up as one of the Vikings’ starting receivers (having entered the year with 20 career grabs), but then by catching more of his share of downfield targets than any receiver in the league. Overall, the Vikings passing attack ranked 18th in yards, 21st in touchdowns and second in fewest interceptions.
According to Pro Football Reference’s handy Player Index tool, Thielen led all NFL receivers by grabbing 70.4 percent of his ‘deep targets’ (min. 20 targets). The stat shows Thielen’s reliable hands and improved route running that quickly led to trust with a new quarterback and play caller.
Below is a look at NFL receiving production thinned down to plays described as a deep pass (at least 15 air yards) in box scores.
Do eschew the Cole Beasley comparisons for Thielen, who gained the bulk of his career-best 967 receiving yards on passes that traveled at least 15 yards down the field.
His connection with Bradford eased the quarterback’s transition into an offense behind eight different line combinations in 15 starts.
Bradford, the league’s most accurate quarterback at 71.6 percent completed, was also one of the better downfield passers.
Bradford ranked eighth in the same ‘deep target’ category among quarterbacks, completing 49.4 percent of his passes. He trailed only Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, Tom Brady and Derek Carr in percentage of downfield passes completed. Though he threw the fewest such attempts among those quarterbacks while taking a career-worst 37 sacks.