They Went Where - Adam Thielen

They Went Where?? – 12th to 18th July

They Went Where?? – 12th to 18th July

After a week away, the ‘They Went Where??’ series of articles returns. I take another sample of mock draft data, and look for trends appearing during the week. 

THE DATA

You can read where I gathered my data from in the first article in this series. Many thanks to fantasyfootballcalculator.com for allowing their mock draft results to be accessible. 

The data for this article comes from 4,389 mock drafts, carried out between the 12th and 18th July 2020. This data is also restricted to a PPR format for a 12 team league. 

So, what were the findings for this sample?

NINERS IN THE NINTH 

One thing that has been a constant throughout these draft samples is the name that normally comes in the second half of the ninth round. Some days its in 9.07, the next it’s at 9.09 – but its roughly in the same spot in ALL these charts.

What is it? It’s the average ADP of the San Fransisco 49ers D/ST unit. While other offensive players move up and down the charts dependant upon where they have been taken, the Niners D/ST has remained more or less static. 

How is this unit kept in the same place? The HI pick for each mini sample varies wildly, but it is the LOW pick that sets the scene. Throughout every draft, 49ers’ defensive unit is off the board by the end of the tenth round. Every single time. And this is in over 10,000 mock drafts. 

WEST COAST DEFENSE

It is often the first defence to be taken off the board as well. There are a couple of smaller samples throughout this entire data collection process where the Baltimore Ravens defence has seen a higher HI pick than the Niners. But those are rare. And no other team apart from the Ravens has even been close.  

So are people preferring the Niners this time around? Lets look at the stats. 

Last season, the 49ers were only one of 5 teams who conceded less than 5,000 yards in the regular season – and finished second in the category. They were particularly effective against the pass. 

SELECTED PASSING STATS – SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Pass attempts Completed passes Pass yards against Avg yards / attempt  1st downs conceded
519 (6th) 318 (5th) 2707 (1st) 4.8 (1st) 150 (=1st)

These stats suggest that, although the team saw some of the fewest passing attempts against them, they were effective at stopping the ball on the passes being completed. This was a large factor in keeping opponents to 20 points or below in 9 of their 16 games

While those stats by themselves are fantasy-relevant, here are some of the other defensive stats for the other teams that conceded less than 5,000 yards in the regular season:

OTHER SELECTED DEFENSIVE TEAM STATS

Team Yds against Pts against Pass TDs   against Rush TDs against Total TDs against  Yds/Play FFs INTs D/ST TDs scored Fantasy points  (NFL.com)
NE 4414 (1) 195 (1) 13 (1) 7 (=1) 20 (1) 4.7 (=1) 11 (=6) 25 (1) 7 (1) 224 (1)
SF 4509 (2) 290 (5) 23 (=7) 11 (=4) 34 (9) 4.7 (=1) 15 (=3) 12 (=8) 5 (3) 163 (3)
BUF 4772 (3) 251 (2) 15 (=2) 12 (=5) 27 (=2) 4.8 (=2) 9 (=8) 14 (6) 0 (=27) 130 (11)
BAL 4809 (4) 282 (3) 15 (=2) 12 (=5) 27 (=2) 5.2 (=5) 12 (=5) 13 (=7) 6 (=2) 150 (4)
PIT 4866 (5) 285 (4) 23 (=7) 7 (=1) 30 (5) 4.7 (=1) 18 (1) 20 (2) 4 (3) 180 (2)

Most, if not all, of these columns involve stats that are also fantasy relevant. Yet San Francisco only leads in one of them – yards given up per play (shared with Pittsburgh and New England). The rest are led by other teams. And there’s one clear leader in those fields. The Patriots. 

PICKING THE PATS 

Strong performances in these fantasy relevant fields put the Patriots D/ST at the head of the 2019 fantasy points table. 

But despite this, New England are not being drafted as the D/ST1. They are actually  being taken as the D/ST5, behind four other teams. Strangely enough, those four teams were also featured in the table above. And this was consistently the case across all three sub-sections of the data: 

TOP 5 DEFENSIVE TEAM PICKS ACROSS DATA SAMPLE

12th – 14th July 14th – 16th July 16 -18th July
SF =9.09 avg (1)  9.09 (1) =9.09 (1)
BAL  10.01 (2)  10.01 (2) 10.05 (2)
BUF  10.08 (3)  10.07 (3) 10.05 (3)
PIT  10.10 (4)  11.01 (4) 11.01 (4)
NE  11.05 (5)  11.08 (5) 11.07 (5)

We must bear in mind that these drafts were carried out before several members of the Patriots team decided to opt out of the season due to COVID. But, as has been reported in the news, several members of the New England defensive unit have declined to play this season. This includes regular starters from last season, D’Onta Hightower and Patrick Chung. As such, this likely rules out a repeat of last season’s dominance, and moves them further down the pecking order.

But, as was previously said, these drafts happened before these opt-outs happened – so why were the 49ers being picked as the D/ST1 over the Patriots? New England outscored San Francisco in many categories. They conceded nearly 100 points less than the Niners over the course of the regular season, and let in 14 fewer touchdowns. They also led in defensive and special teams touchdowns scored as well. As a result, they ended up over 40 fantasy points ahead of second place on NFL.com’s fantasy scoring. In addition, all 12 of the Patriots’ victories saw them keep their opponents at 20 points or below – another statistic higher than that of the Niners.

STRONG CHOICES

In addition to the obvious disadvantage that New England will now have due to the opt-outs, there were actually other reasons why those listed teams could be picked in earlier positions. The Bills don’t concede many points – they kept their opponents on 20 points or below in 13 games during the regular season – higher than the Patriots. The Steelers were very strong in their ground defence, conceding the least rushing touchdowns and forcing the most fumbles. And the Ravens have their consistency – having placed in the top 5 fantasy defences for the last 3 years. Incidentally, this statistic is the most convincing of all to pick them before New England and San Francisco.

But the proof is in the picking. And it could well be that San Francisco’s consistent presence in these categories makes them well worth considering before teams that have excellence in just a few areas. They have a solid unit across the board, and are part of a team who know how to win. 

And it seems that drafters want the Niners as their guys. Bearing in mind, picking a D/ST in such an early stage of the draft is not always advised. But perhaps getting the drop on that position can help drafters to a championship. And they may be right. 

DEPTH AFTER DIGGS

In 2019, one team that saw a wild swing in their approach to the offensive game was the Minnesota Vikings. Their previous two seasons saw a large proportion of focus for the air game – with their 2018 season seeing the larger divide between the styles (606 passes to 357 carries). And so it was a large surprise to see that switch so dramatically in 2019. Last season, the Vikings carried 476 times and threw 441 times. 

This was seemingly also a big surprise for those who were no longer benefiting  from the change in offensive style. One key player amongst them was Wide Recevier Stefon Diggs

But, after a fiery start to the season, where Diggs was fined for several practice absences, the Wide Receiver came out with over 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. It was his most efficient season for the Vikings so far, but it also turned out to be his last. Diggs was traded to the Bills for four draft picks, including a first in this year’s draft. 

THIELEN THE PAIN

Another player that was affected by the switch in offense was Digg’s wideout partner Adam Thielen. If anything, the effect on Thielen’s game stats was greater than that of Diggs.

Unlike Diggs, who had seen his stock steadily rise whilst at Minnesota, Thielen was already one step ahead. He had seen two consecutive years of 1000+ yards and 140+ targets – and his 2019 haul of 9 touchdowns was a season high. 

The style switch saw his targets brutally cut from 153 to just 53 – around a third of what he had gotten previously. And, although he gained more yards per catch, he saw only 418 yards from his completions. A huge drop from 1,373 yards the previous season. 

While this was primarily due to the scheme change, Thielen’s availability does also factor in. The Wide Receiver missed six of the last seven games of the regular season due to a hamstring injury. They were the first games he had been out for in his entire NFL career. In the middle of this, Thielen did suit up for the Week 9 game against the Chiefs but only saw one target all game. This suggests that he still wasn’t ready for action – and it was no surprise that he sat out the rest of the regular season so he could return in the post season. 

THIELEN THE LOVE?

Despite his low stat-line in 2019, Adam Thielen is going off the board at the middle of the third round. As it stands, that places him above volume receivers like Cooper Kupp, Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley. All three players had 100+ targets and 1000+ yard seasons. Yet the ADP for those three equal the middle of the 4th round – one entire round below Thielen.

There were even occasions where drafters have reached for the Minnesota man at the start of the second round (2.01). So what caused them to make that decision? Here are three reasons I believe that people have made the stretch.

THIELEN IN CHARGE…

First of all, there is the obvious void left behind by Minnesota’s leading receiver from last year. Even with the change of style, Diggs still managed to attain a great statline from the season. And, even if the ground-first game stays for the 2020 season, Stefon Diggs’ departure opens a large volume of targets. Targets that can be shared out between the other offensive targets. And Thielen must surely be first in line.

Now, let’s not be hasty and rule other options out. The Vikings used that 1st Round pick from Diggs’ move on another Wide Receiver. Justin Jefferson, who won the National Championship last year, joins Thielen at the top of the depth chart. And Olabisi Johnson was only 3 targets short of matching Thielen’s 2019 haul. But lack of pre-season preperation and game time may affect Jefferson’s team integration. And Johnson is only in his sophomore season. Expecting him to jump over the veteran is a stretch in itself!

So the finger points at the experienced Thielen to take the lead in targets. He has seen similar volume before. He has lead a team in targets and brought home the goods. And, in these uncertain times, you need that certainty on the end of a pass. 

…THIELEN HEALTHY…

Secondly, there is hope that Thielen can have another 16 game season like those that have come before. His post-season game performances implied that he was back to full fitness, and so he should have no injury issues coming into 2020. On its own, his health will bring his numbers up from last season’s dip. And the expected uptick in per-game volume should enhance the difference that those extra games will make. 

…BUT WAIT AND SEE WHAT’S COOKING

Last of all, there has been the confusion and speculation created by Dalvin Cook’s situation. Cook was the main beneficiary of the switch in offensive play – seeing his carry volume rocket skywards in 2019. The number nearly doubled from one year to the next, up from 133 to 250 regular season touches.

Some of those did transfer from the back up Running Back (Alexander Mattison only saw 100 carries compared to Latvaius Murray’s 140 from the year before). But the rest came at the expense of the passing game. Quarterback passes dropped from 606 to 466 over the two seasons. 

Now that Cook has reported to the Vikings’ training camps, the likelihood of him keeping his carry volume is high. He did have some pass catching involvement last year so, while he is a threat to Thielen’s share of those extra targets while he is on the field. 

We are still in the early stages of pre-season practice. There are many more twists and turns to go in the Cook saga. But even when it is all cleared up, I feel that Thielen’s ADP of middle-third round pick is still too low, and should be considered higher up in the draft. Although an early second round pick is likely too soon to pick him up, I would at least expect him to suit at least a late second round pick based upon the huge upside that he presents. 

Until then, Rush Nation,

Keep Rushing!

Rob @CowsillRob

 

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