Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen was placed on the team’s COVID-19 reserve list on Monday and, with each passing day, Thielen’s chances of being activated for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers dwindles.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported on Friday that Thielen “is not expected to play Sunday against the Panthers… and barring a change this weekend, he’s bracing to have to sit.”
Thielen produced a reported positive test that landed him on the list on Monday, however, coach Mike Zimmer indicated that Thielen is asymptomatic. The Vikings have continued to test Thielen instead of sending the star receiver into a 10-day isolation period had he been symptomatic, per the Star Tribune.
If Thielen is truly asymptomatic, he could return for Sunday’s game by producing two negative tests, leaving Saturday and Sunday’s tests into consideration.
“I don’t know, honestly,” Zimmer said of his expectations of Thielen playing. “He’s in the COVID protocol, and we’ll just see. When you get in these protocols, it’s always about, ‘What’s the next test, and the next test?’ So we’ll just have to see as the week goes on.”
Thielen’s potential absence on Sunday will propel rookie Justin Jefferson into the No. 1 receiver role and likely elevate second-year receiver Bisi Johnson into more playing time outside, with Chad Beebe taking slot reps in three-wide receiver sets.
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Vikings Will Have to Find Answers in the Red Zone Without Thielen
Thielen has produced back-to-back two-touchdown performances against the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears and has a league-leading 11 receiving touchdowns this season and will be sorely missed, especially in the red zone if he cannot go on Sunday.
The Vikings boast the league’s top red-zone offense, scoring the most touchdowns inside the opponent’s 20-yard line through 11 games this season. Thielen has played a large part in that, catching seven touchdowns inside the 10-yard line with the combination of his crisp routes and hands that make awe-inducing catches seem routine.
ADAM THIELEN NASTY ONE-HAND TD CATCH.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 22, 2020
Beyond Jefferson, the Vikings receiving corps have just 13 catches for 165 yards this season.
All Eyes Could be on Jefferson Come Sunday
Jefferson, who was selected No. 21 overall with a pick acquired from the Buffalo Bills in the Stefon Diggs trade, will face his biggest test of the season if he assumes the No. 1 receiver role in Thielen’s absence.
Jefferson has been the league’s most efficient receiver, producing the highest yards per route run (3.25) of any receiver. He leads all rookies with 848 receiving yards — good for seventh among all active wide receivers while his target share ranks 43rd. Jefferson has averaged a second-best 18.8 yards per reception this season, yet he has seen five or fewer targets in five of his seven starts this season.
Pundits have argued for Jefferson to see an uptick in usage given his efficiency. On Sunday, Jefferson may see all the work he can handle while possibly facing added attention in coverage if Thielen is out.
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Trevor Squire is a Heavy contributor covering the Minnesota Vikings and journalism graduate from the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities. Connect with him on Twitter @trevordsquire and join our Vikings community at Heavy on Vikings on Facebook.