Vikings' Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs living up to billing as top receiving duo
EAGAN, Minn. — Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have attracted a lot fans, including Michael Jordan.
Former Vikings Pro Bowl receiver Ahmad Rashad regularly watches his former team play with his friend and neighbor in Jupiter, Fla. He's seen three of this season's four games with the basketball hall of famer.
"Michael appreciates them. Absolutely," Rashad said of the Minnesota receivers.
Thielen is second in the NFL with 40 receptions and with 473 yards. Diggs has 27 grabs for 311 yards. They might see those rankings level off a bit considering their stats have been beefed up by Minnesota (1-2-1) playing from behind early, by 10 points or more, in each of the past three games.
Still, NFL records could be threatened this season.
Thielen is on pace for 160 receptions, which would better the mark of 143 set by Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison in 2002. New Orleans' Michael Thomas, who leads the NFL with 42 catches, is on pace for 168.
With 67 combined receptions, Diggs and Thielen have more than any other NFL wide receiver combo. They're on pace for 268, which would shatter the NFL record of 231 set by Detroit's Herman Moore (123) and Brett Perriman (108) in 1995.
"They could be the top duo in the NFL," said Rashad, who played for the Vikings from 1976-82 and made four Pro Bowls. "I don't know who is better than them. It's incredible how many receptions they've had in four games."
Thielen and Diggs have been regarded by many as the league's best combo since last season, when Thielen caught 91 passes for 1,276 yards and made the Pro Bowl and Diggs, despite missing two games because of injury, made 64 catches for 849 yards.
"Obviously, when you hear those things, obviously you're appreciative of those words," Thielen said. "But at the same time, Diggs and I — I know Diggs is of the same mindset — we want to be the best today and we don't really care about what other people think. It doesn't really matter in this league what you do in the past; you have to bring it each week."
Said Diggs: "I don't want to say we don't play with confidence, but we don't think that highly of ourselves, so we just kind of keep everything moving forward because every opportunity is critical for us."
Next up are the Eagles in Philadelphia, a rematch of the NFC Championship Game won, 38-7, the Eagles.
That was the last time anybody slowed down Thielen, who was playing with a back injury. He caught just three passes for 28 yards. This season, he has 100 or more receiving yards in all four games.
Against Buffalo on Sept. 23, Thielen had 14 catches, tied for the second-most in team history, although 11 came in the second half after Minnesota had fallen behind 27-0 en route to a 27-6 loss.
"Honestly, a lot of it is probably predicating from the fact that we've been losing a lot of ballgames and having to come from behind," Thielen said of his gaudy stats. "Sometimes stats don't tell the whole stories. ... For me, I'm just trying to win every route and win every play and try to judge not off numbers but what I'm doing on the field."
Diggs has been less consistent; he's had two 100-yard games but a combined 60 in the other two. But both were on their game, along with quarterback Kirk Cousins, last week in Los Angeles. Thielen caught eight passes for 135 yards and Diggs 11 for 123 yards in a 38-31 loss to the Rams.
"Those two guys are fun to watch," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "I think the world of (Thielen), and Diggs the same way. ... It's something that has been kind of our Achilles heel on defense is giving up explosive plays, and those two guys can be very explosive. So, we definitely have our work cut out for us."
Diggs has caught three touchdown passes this season, Thielen two — including a 45-yard score against the Rams. Diggs scored perhaps the most notable touchdown in Vikings history, snaring a 61-yard pass from Case Keenum on the final play to beat New Orleans, 29-24, in the NFC division playoffs last season at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Cousins loves what he's seen from his top two receivers.
"We've gotten them involved, and that's important and that can be hard to do as defenses start to key in on them and try to take them away," the quarterback said. "I've been pleased with how many opportunities they've gotten and hopefully as the year goes on, we can continue to keep them involved."
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said using different formations has helped keep defenses off balance. He said having two elite receivers has been "awesome." but doesn't deny he would like a more-balanced offense. Minnesota is last in the NFL in rushing at 63 yards a game.
Thielen and Diggs certainly have a shot at becoming just the sixth set of NFL teammates to each have 100 or more catches in a season. Other than Moore and Perriman, others in that group are: Ed McCaffrey (101) and Rod Smith (100) for Denver in 2000; Larry Fitzgerald (103) and Anquan Boldin (102) of Arizona in 2005; Reggie Wayne (100) and tight end Dallas Clark (100) for Indianapolis in 2009; and Demaryius Thomas (111) and Emmanuel Sanders (101) for the Broncos in 2014.
"What they do is they make it hard for a defense to load up on them," Rashad said. "If you load up on one of them, the other is going to get you. It seems they feed off each other. They both run excellent routes and they have excellent hands. It's really a pleasure to watch those two guys."
Rashad is planning to watch Sunday's game in Jupiter. And, yes, the plan is for Jordan to join him.