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Case Keenum, Adam Thielen, and Undrafted Passing Games

All 32 teams passed on Keenum and Thielen many times.

The Minnesota Vikings have a pretty good passing game: through 14 weeks, the Vikings rank in the top 10 in both ANY/A and passer rating. What makes it really weird is that the top two members of the passing game — the quarterback and leading receiver — were both undrafted free agents. Case Keenum went undrafted in 2012 after a stellar career at the University of Houston. The Vikings leading receiver is Adam Thielen, who went undrafted in 2013 out of Minnesota State–Mankato. Together, they are the driving force behind the 2017 Vikings efficient passing attack.

The Vikings will become just the 7th team since 1970 with their top passer and top receiver both having gone undrafted.

  • The 2014 Browns had Brian Hoyer and Andrew Hawkins, although unlike the Vikings, this team wasn’t very good. Cleveland went 7-9 (which is of course, very good for Cleveland) and ranked 23rd in ANY/A.
  • The 2009 and 2010 Cowboys make the list, too, thanks to Miles Austin and a pair of quarterbacks. In 2009, Tony Romo and the Cowboys ranked 4th in ANY/A and went 11-5; the next year, with Romo hurt, Jon Kitna led Dallas in passing but the team went 6-10 and ranked 12th in ANY/A.
  • In 2004, the Titans passing attack was led by Billy Volek and Drew Bennett. For a short run, the combination was outstanding, but overall, the Titans finished 19th in ANY/A and 5-11.
  • In 2000, Jay Fiedler and Orande Gadsen were the key components in a mediocre Miami passing attack. Those Dolphins teams were defined by their defense, and the Dolphins went 11-5 despite ranking 19th in ANY/A.
  • In 1992, Dave Krieg joined the Chiefs as a 34-year-old veteran. He was undrafted, as was Willie Davis, who had zero NFL catches to his name prior to the season. Davis wound up leading the Chiefs in receiving, and together, Krieg and Davis helped the Chiefs rank 8th in ANY/A and finish 10-6.

The table below shows all teams since 1970 where neither the quarterback nor the leading receiver (in receiving yards) were drafted within the first 200 picks. It is sorted by ANY/A rank that season:

TeamYearQBQB DraftWRTop WR DraftANY/A RkWn%
KAN1990Steve DeBerg275Stephone Paigeudfa10.688
MIN1988Wade Wilson210Anthony Carter33440.688
DAL2009Tony RomoudfaMiles Austinudfa40.688
HOU1989Warren MoonudfaDrew Hill32860.563
CLE1978Brian Sipe330Reggie Ruckerudfa60.500
HOU1992Warren MoonudfaCurtis Duncan25870.625
HOU1988Warren MoonudfaDrew Hill32870.625
CLE1976Brian Sipe330Reggie Ruckerudfa80.643
KAN1992Dave KriegudfaWillie Davisudfa80.625
HOU1987Warren MoonudfaDrew Hill32890.600
KAN1985Bill Kenney333Stephone Paigeudfa110.375
NWE2008Matt Cassel230Wes Welkerudfa120.688
DAL2010Jon KitnaudfaMiles Austinudfa120.375
TAM2003Brad Johnson227Keenan McCardell326130.438
KAN1989Steve DeBerg275Stephone Paigeudfa140.531
MIN1989Wade Wilson210Anthony Carter334150.625
SFO1980Steve DeBerg275Dwight Clark249150.375
NOR1971Ed Hargett397Danny Abramowicz420160.357
TAM1987Steve DeBerg275Gerald Carter240170.267
KAN1986Bill Kenney333Stephone Paigeudfa190.625
TEN2004Billy VolekudfaDrew Bennettudfa190.313
MIA2000Jay FiedlerudfaOronde Gadsdenudfa190.688
BUF2011Ryan Fitzpatrick250Steve Johnson224200.375
CLE1977Brian Sipe330Reggie Ruckerudfa200.429
ATL1986David ArcherudfaCharlie Brown201210.469
BUF2012Ryan Fitzpatrick250Steve Johnson224210.375
KAN1988Steve DeBerg275Stephone Paigeudfa220.281
HOU1985Warren MoonudfaDrew Hill328220.313
KAN1981Bill Kenney333J.T. Smithudfa220.563
CLE2014Brian HoyerudfaAndrew Hawkinsudfa230.438
MIN1987Wade Wilson210Anthony Carter334240.533
HOU1986Warren MoonudfaDrew Hill328240.313
NYG1978Joe PisarcikudfaJim Robinson367240.375
BUF2010Ryan Fitzpatrick250Steve Johnson224250.250
DET1989Bob Gagliano319Richard Johnsonudfa250.438
DEN1982Steve DeBerg275Steve Watsonudfa260.222
ATL1985David ArcherudfaBilly Johnson365270.250
NYG1977Joe PisarcikudfaJim Robinson367270.357
SFO2004Tim Rattay212Eric Johnson224290.125
NYJ2016Ryan Fitzpatrick250Quincy Enunwa209300.313
CIN2008Ryan Fitzpatrick250T.J. Houshmandzadeh204310.281

There are, unsurprisingly, a few combinations that show up multiple times on the list. Warren Moon and Drew Hill were the key parts of the Oilers passing game for five straight years in the back half of the ’80s. Wade Wilson and Anthony Carter made the list for their work with the Vikings in ’87, ’88, and ’89. Steve DeBerg and Stephone Paige did it with the Chiefs from ’88 to ’90. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Steve Johnson led the Bills in passing and receiving, respectively, in 2010, 2011, and 2012. And Brian Sipe and Reggie Rucker led the Browns in ’76, ’77, and ’78.

What stands out to you?

  • sacramento gold miners

    Case Keenum is somewhat similar to Brian Sipe, neither has a big arm, but possessed some of the other attributes for success. It does appear many of the QBs of this type(and on the list), played at under the radar schools.

  • Deacon Drake

    Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a part of a lot of bad football. Everyone else on this list with multiple entries had at least one offense in the top half of the league.

    • Richie

      Yeah, guys like him and McCown, Hoyer, Kitna just seem to bounce around from terrible team to terrible team.

  • Deacon Drake

    Also, does anybody have any idea why Anthony Carter fell so far in the draft? Played at Michigan, big numbers, fast as hell, three time Heisman watch, but never top 3. I mean, that should be top 3 rounds, right? I mean, you could have been doing blow in the green room and still gotten picked higher than Carter…

    • sacramento gold miners

      Carter was already playing in the USFL at the time of the 1983 NFL draft, and there were concerns about his size and durability coming out of college. Miami traded his rights to the Vikings, don’t recall what they received in return. I had forgotten Carter wrapped up his pro career as a Detroit Lion.

      • Richie

        “The Minnesota Vikings obtained the National Football League rights to
        the wide receiver Anthony Carter from the Miami Dolphins yesterday for
        the linebacker Robin Sendlein and a 1986 second-round draft choice.”


        And it looks like Miami must have flipped that pick, because they only used their own 2nd round pick in 1986.

        I wonder if Miami’s offense could have been even better in the late 80’s with Duper, Clayton AND Carter. Or maybe that’s just a case of not enough balls to go around.

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