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Carolina Panthers

Adam Thielen, having a season for the ages (and the aged)

Adam Thielen

CHARLOTTE — Not many things have gone as planned for the Panthers this season.

But the thing they've found they can count on, and the thing they anticipated, was Adam Thielen making the sheer number of plays he's made for rookie quarterback Bryce Young and becoming an important leader for an offense that's young and learning on the fly.

"He's not even been the slightest bit of surprise," Panthers head coach Frank Reich said of the veteran receiver. "I said that from the start, like this guy's special, he's a special route runner. He's got special football smarts and savvy. He's a unique and elite competitor. He's an elite leader.

"Obviously, you guys can tell Bryce has a ton of confidence in him. He just continues to make play after play."

A reasonable expectation was that the 33-year-old Thielen would be productive this year. They just might not have expected him to be far and away their top receiving target.

Last year in Minnesota, he caught 70 balls alongside 128-catch superstar Justin Jefferson. Something like that kind of complementary effort would have been fine.

Instead, Thielen looks like a star again and one of the top receivers in the league.

Through Week 6, he's tied for third in the league in receptions with 49, just one off the league lead. He's also doing something with them, as he's 10th in receiving yardage, with 509, and has four touchdowns.

Table inside Article
Rank, Player, team Receptions Yards Age
t1. Puka Nacua, LAR 50 598 22
t1. Ja'Marr Chase, Cin 50 556 23
t3. ADAM THIELEN, CAR 49 509 33
t3. Stefon Diggs, BUF 49 620 29
t5. Tyreek Hill, MIA 42 814 29
t5. AJ Brown, PHI 42 672 26
t5. Keenan Allen, LAC 42 519 31
8. Michael Pittman Jr., IND 40 406 26
9. Davante Adams, LV 39 471 30
10. Amon-Ra St. Brown, DET 38 455 23

These stats are usually the province of much younger men. He's the oldest player in the top 10 in both categories — 31-year-old whippersnapper Keenan Allen has him by 28 yards, as they're ninth and 10th in yardage, but Thielen has seven more receptions in six games than Allen.

Otherwise, there are a lot of cats in their 20s who aren't putting up the kind of numbers the 33-year-old Thielen is.

He also leads the league in third-down receptions, with 17 for 194 yards, illustrating the kind of trust his rookie quarterback has in him.

And maybe it's his age or his unassuming appearance, but it appears people are still surprised by his production.

"I would say keep doubting him," offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said with a grin. "All he's done is prove them wrong since Day 1.

"I love his mentality. He embodies a warrior spirit. Not that I doubted him before, but he has a lot more dog in him than I probably saw from the outside looking in. Just the way he goes about his business every single day. He commands respect. He talks a little trash on the football field, which is also my personality; I like that, too.

"But he is as consistent as it comes when it comes to knowing what to do, knowing how to do it, and being the same guy every day."

Adam Thielen

That last part is what attracted them to him when he was a free agent. They were expecting a leader; they were expecting a role model. That's why it wasn't a surprise when he was voted a team captain by his peers prior to the season.

The numbers, on the other hand, may be beyond what most expected.

It's always tricky to project a long year when you're a third of the way into a 17-game season, but Thielen is on pace to catch 138 passes for 1,442 yards with 11 touchdowns.

Those are Jeffersonian numbers. Star receiver numbers. And also career-highs, well beyond his two Pro Bowl seasons (when he went 91-1,276-4 and 113-1,373-9 in 2017 and 2018). And he's doing it here in his 10th NFL season.

No one could have fairly expected that, but don't tell that to those who see him every day.

"No, it's not surprising because this is his whole career," veteran backup Andy Dalton said flatly. "So it doesn't surprise me. He's still doing it. So the answer is no, do not underestimate him."

Adam Thielen

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