Fantasy Football Breakout and Busts: Jalen Hurts vs. Adam Thielen

Welcome to Breakouts and Busts where I highlight one breakout candidate and one bust candidate for the 2021 fantasy season. In this edition, I’ll be taking a look at the new starting QB in Philly and the WR2 in Minny.

BREAKOUT - Jalen Hurts (QB - PHI)


2020 Season Overview

(stats from ESPN.com)


Jalen Hurts wasn’t expected to do much of anything in 2020. I don’t think many of us thought Wentz would struggle to the point that he’s no longer a part of the Philadelphia Eagles organisation today, but that’s exactly what happened. Before Week 14, Hurts was mainly used by Doug Pederson a few times a game in wacky run formations to try and throw off the defense since he’s just as capable passing the football and he is running it. It certainly wasn’t the best use of his skills.


As the season went on and Wentz eventually got benched, it was Hurts’ time to shine for fantasy owners and oh boy did he shine brightly. In Hurts’ four starts for the Eagles, he put up 919 passing yards, 5 TDs and 3 INTs to go along with 272 rushing yards, 3 TDs and 2 lost fumbles. Hurts averaged 23.9 fantasy points per game over those four starts which, over a full 16 game season, would’ve made him the QB3 in most fantasy leagues, only behind Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers. Hurts far outperformed Carson Wentz and earned his spot as the Eagles’ starting QB in 2021.


What Went Wrong In 2020?


Turnovers.


If there’s something you could nitpick about Jalen Hurts impressive four game sample size, it’s the amount of times he gave the ball away. He turned the ball over five times in those four games, averaging 1.25 turnovers a game. Honestly though, it sounds worse than it actually is, especially considering Wentz averaged 1.58 turnovers per game in his 12 games as the starter last season.


Philly was trailing in pretty much every game Hurts started. He didn’t have much to work with so he forced throws into bad areas and extended runs he didn’t have to, which led to interceptions and fumbles. He had to do everything himself and that leads to mistakes. It’s just something to keep in mind with Jalen Hurts. He’s probably going to turn the ball over once a game, but his high rushing floor means it won’t hurt you too badly.


In reality, nothing really went wrong for Jalen Hurts last season. If anything, everything went right because the Wentz benching led to him winning the starting job. Considering that the Eagles as a whole were incredibly dissapointing last season, I feel like things will only get better for Hurts. With a healthy group of WRs and a new head coach in Nick Sirriani, Hurts could be in store for a great 2021 campaign.


What Will Change In 2021?


Hurts will be the starter for the 2021 season.


Jalen Hurts will be the unquestioned starter for the Eagles this season as the team is expected to build around him for the future. This is great news, especially for Hurts dynasty owners.


In 2020, Philly called the 4th most passing plays in the league. Something that tends to happen for bad teams is that they pass a lot because they’re always trailing and this was the case for the Eagles last season. I don’t see the team making any huge leaps this season, so I expect more of the same in 2021. The Eagles are still going to be bad, which means higher passing volume. Hurts averaged 33.3 passing attempts per game in his four starts for Philly and it’s completely possible that his attempts will stay around there next season. If he could improve on his 51.9% completion rate over those 4 games and get that closer to 60%, then Hurts could definitely take a step forward as a passer in 2021.


Considering Hurts loves to run the ball and averaged 11.5 carries per game in his four starts, he could be the next Lamar Jackson dual threat and we all know how good running QBs are for fantasy. They’re pretty much cheat codes. I could see Hurts throw the ball 30 times a game and run 10 times a game, so the potential is definitely there for him to be even better than Lamar Jackson for fantasy, which is insane when you think about it. Now, I don’t think he’ll necessarily be better than Jackson, but I do think Hurts could be in that elite tier of fantasy QBs next season.


Verdict


As of writing this article, according to FantasyPros, Jalen Hurts is their 14th-ranked QB and 105th overall in their Expert Consensus Rankings for half PPR scoring. He’s currently being drafted anywhere between the 8th and 10th round in 12 team mock drafts. If Hurts could reach his potential, he could end up being worth a 3rd round pick. Now, I don’t suggest drafting him in the 3rd round at all, but when the 6th or 7th round comes along, I wouldn’t be opposed to grabbing Hurts. His ceiling is just too high to not take a shot on in my opinion. If you are actually able to snag Hurts as late as round 10, you probably have the steal of the draft. Hurts is going around the same time as other QBs such as Matthew Stafford (LAR), Matt Ryan (ATL), Tom Brady (TB) and Joe Burrow (CIN). While I’m also high on Burrow, Hurts’ rushing floor is just too much to pass up on and I would take him over each of those QBs.


I think Jalen Hurts is going to have a monster 2021 for fantasy and I’m not just saying that because I’ve got him in a keeper league. I project Hurts to complete 264 of his 480 passing attempts for 3,050 yards, 25 TDs and 12 INTs. On the ground, I project Hurts to run 160 times for 950 yards, 10 TDs and 4 lost fumbles. That production would’ve made Hurts the QB7 last season. It would put him just outside of the top 5 fantasy QBs, but if things go right, Hurts could very well wind up being a top 5 fantasy QB in 2021.

BUST - Adam Thielen (WR - MIN)


2020 Season Overview


(stats from ESPN.com)


Adam Thielen’s 2020 season started off with a bang, but over the course of the year, he would eventually get overshadowed by rookie WR Justin Jefferson and for good reason. Thielen was used a bit differently in the offense last season. Jefferson was the big play guy racking up all the yards and catching the most passes while Thielen was used more as a shifty redzone threat. Thielen was used very similarly to Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, although they’re both very different WRs. Being a redzone threat led to a low target and reception count for Thielen, but higher TD totals. Adam Thielen ended the year with solid stats, catching 74 of his 108 targets for 925 yards and 14 TDs.


While those numbers aren’t bad by any means, Thielen lacked consistency and had a boom-or-bust season for fantasy purposes. Unless he scored a TD, you were probably disappointed with his performance on any given week. In half PPR leagues, Thielen ended the year as the WR8 and you ultimately weren’t disappointed in him, but his Tyler Lockett-esque inconsistency drove players crazy all year. Thielen’s teammate, Justin Jefferson, would finish two spots ahead of him as the WR6.


What Went Right In 2020?


Touchdowns.


Despite only catching 74 balls, Adam Thielen got into the endzone a whopping 14 times. That’s a TD every 5.29 catches! Nothing about that statistic is sustainable in 2021 in any way, shape or form.


Just to put things into perspective, in 2018 when Adam Thielen had his career year with 153 targets, 113 receptions, 1373 yards and 9 TDs, he averaged a TD every 12.56 catches. In fact, if you take the average of the 3 best years of his career (2016-2018), Thielen scored a TD every 15.17 catches. Yeah, there’s absolutely no way he can keep up that TD pace.


(stats from playerprofiler.com)

Taking a look at opportunity and productivity, there were some things that were great about Thielen’s game last season. He ran routes on every single one of the team’s passing plays and saw the 3rd most redzone targets in the league. You’d figure this would’ve led to a 1000 yard season with at least 125 targets, but that wasn’t the case due to the emergence of Justin Jefferson and the fact that Minnesota is a run first team that actually had a healthy Dalvin Cook for most of the season.


The main reason Thielen got into the endzone so often was because he was Kirk Cousins’ favorite redzone target. Two years ago, in 2019, Thielen didn’t see nearly as much redzone work, which goes to show that 2020 may very well have been a one off.


What Will Change In 2021?


TDs will likely regress to the mean.


I’ve talked about average receptions per TD a good amount in this article because it’s an accurate indicator as to whether or not a WR is overachieving. Hall of Fame WRs tend to average 7-9 receptions per TD, so if you’re around that range and not a HoF quality WR, you’re most likely overachieving by a good amount.


It’s only natural that Thielen’s TD totals will go down in 2021. He’s not the type of WR to average a TD per game like Davante Adams or Tyreek Hill. I would definitely place both of those guys a tier or two above Thielen. Hill caught a TD every 5.8 receptions in 2020 and was one of only three WRs in the entire league with at least 100 targets to have a receptions per TD average under 6 along with Mike Evans (5.38) and, guess who, Adam Thielen (5.29).


Over his last 5 seasons (2016-2020), Thielen averaged a TD every 9.92 catches, which is still a high rate, but one that is much more realistic for this season than his 2020 average. A TD every 10 catches is within the realm of possibility for Thielen this season, but averaging about 10 receptions per TD means you’re an upper echelon receiver.


Thielen certainly is one of the better WRs in the league, but considering the fact that he only received 103 targets and caught a lowly 74 balls last season is cause for concern. On top of that, Thielen got into the endzone 14 times. That’s a lot of production for the smaller workload he got, meaning he’s a prime regression candidate heading into 2021.


Verdict


As of writing this article, according to FantasyPros, Adam Thielen is their 20th-ranked WR and 46th overall in their Expert Consensus Rankings for half PPR scoring. He’s currently being drafted anywhere between the 4th and 5th round in 12 team mock drafts. Thielen is being drafted around the same time as other WRs such as DJ Moore (CAR), Tee Higgins (CIN), Amari Cooper (DAL), Odell Beckham Jr. (CLE), Diontae Johnson (PIT) and CeeDee Lamb (DAL). While I’m not too high on a lot of the WRs in this range, I would likely take Higgins or Lamb over Thielen in this spot as they have the potential to be true WR1’s in fantasy this year. I don’t see that same ceiling in Thielen now that Jefferson is the alpha WR in Minnesota.


I believe Thielen will have a solid, but unspectacular 2021 season for fantasy. If healthy for the entire season, Thielen is likely to reach the 1000 yard plateau again, but his TD totals will take a significant hit. I project Thielen to catch 80 of his 115 targets for 1025 yards and 8 TDs. That production would’ve made Thielen the WR17 last season and I think that’s what we could see from him in 2021. Thielen will likely end up being a decent WR2 option for fantasy. The main issue is that he is inconsistent. He’ll end the season as a solid WR2, but the road to that finish will be very bumpy. Plus, there are so many other WRs with a higher ceiling than him around his ADP and I’d rather take a shot on them than play the feast or famine game with Thielen.



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