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Vikings’ Diggs, Thielen have become NFL’s top receiving duo

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) during the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sept. 18, 2016. Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports file photo

The idea of some sort of competition between the Vikings’ two top wide receivers, perhaps pitting them against each other for the most receptions or yards, didn’t last long.

Rather than compete for touches, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen figured, they’d celebrate each other’s successes.

“I actually do my best to try to get him open so I wouldn’t want a competition with a guy I’m trying to help,” Diggs said with a laugh.

Sans a friendly battle for the best statistics, the two have developed into one of the NFL’s top receiving duos, an unlikely pair to appear at the top of the league’s receiver statistics.

Diggs, 23, was a fifth-round pick out of Maryland. Thielen, 27, went undrafted out of Minnesota-State Mankato.

And yet Thielen’s 299 receiving yards are the second-most in the league only behind Steelers superstar Antonio Brown. Diggs’ 293 yards are the third most, easily giving the duo more receiving yards than any other teammates in the NFL.

Together they’re a major reason the Vikings enter Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions with a 2-1 record despite quarterback Sam Bradford’s knee injury that will sideline him for a third straight game, an added feat that may solidify Diggs and Thielen as one of the league’s top receiving tandems.

“I think so,” Thielen said. “I think at the skill positions on this offense, we have a lot of guys who can make plays. You can’t key on one guy, which is great for all of our skill players. We’re going to keep going back to work and see what happens.”

Even with Case Keenum taking over the quarterback job in Week 2, Diggs and Thielen haven’t missed a beat.

Thielen has 19 catches, while Diggs has 17, four of them touchdowns.

Their ability to get open has allowed the Vikings a better passing offense regardless of who is at quarterback after averaging 239.8 yards through the air last season. This season, the Vikings rank third in the NFL in passing yards, averaging 285.3 per game.

“I think they’re both very fine receivers,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “We’ve seen them make plays on the outside and the inside. We’ve seen them make plays down the field and crossing the field. They’re two legitimate NFL receivers that are making plays for us. That’s important. They’re doing it in all kinds of ways. It doesn’t get talked about much, but when we’re running the ball, they’re doing a very fine job of blocking as well. So it all ties together.”

Their importance to the Vikings’ offense is easily seen in their stats.

No other Vikings wide receiver has more than five catches, and none have more than 21 receiving yards.

Running back Dalvin Cook has been the third-most productive player in the Vikings’ passing game, hauling in 10 receptions for 82 yards, offering more credence to dubbing Thielen and Diggs a top receiver duo.

“I would say it’s real early to say all that,” Diggs countered. “We’re only focused on the next game as of now. As far as one of the best receiving duos? We’re not worried about that. But Thielen’s definitely doing some great things out there.”

The New England Patriots’ Brandin Cooks (256 yards) and Rob Gronkowski (238 yards) have combined for the second-most teammate production behind Diggs and Thielen, but Gronkowski is a tight end, not a receiver. The Atlanta Falcons have the second-most productive wideouts combination this season with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, but even their 425 combined yards is still 167 behind Diggs and Thielen.

“That’s probably better for you guys to compare,” Shurmur said of his top receiving duo. “We like it when the ball is in either one of their hands regardless. That’s comforting for the quarterback.”

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.