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Adam Thielen, with new contract, becoming an example for draft long shots

MINNEAPOLIS -- His path to NFL success -- from Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, to Division II Minnesota State-Mankato and on to an NFL roster through nothing more than a rookie camp tryout -- already feels like something out of a made-for-TV movie. And as Minnesota Vikings receiver Adam Thielen discussed his new three-year contract extension with the team on Tuesday, his story is starting to resonate with players who hope to emulate it.

Thielen, who led the team in receiving yards and earned a three-year, $17 million contract that could be worth up to $27 million, first snatched an NFL roster spot by impressing the Vikings on a May weekend in 2013, leading them to cut Eastern Washington receiver Nicholas Edwards so they could sign him. He earned a practice squad spot after an impressive training camp on the practice fields where he played in college and carved out a spot on the 53-man roster with another strong camp in 2014. After two years playing mostly on special teams, he broke out in 2016, earning a $2.746 million second-round tender as a restricted free agent and the contract extension the Vikings made official on Tuesday.

Now, as he talks to players on the Vikings' roster and works out with draft hopefuls at the gym he recently opened in Lakeville, Minnesota, Thielen is beginning to realize how many players latch onto his journey as something they might be able to do, too.

"There's a few guys at our gym right now that are training, and I think a lot of their motivation is what I've done," Thielen said. "I think they think, 'Maybe I can be the next guy to do that.' There's a guy that came up to me and really just kind of stuck to my story. He's probably going to be in a similar situation coming out this year, and he just wanted to pick my brain and see how I did it. I think it's been a cool thing. There's a lot of guys out there that can play at this level, and sometimes they might be discouraged because they come from a small school or a tough situation. It's nice to see guys at least trying it for a year and really just giving it a shot. Obviously, none of this would have been possible if I hadn't given it a shot when I did."

Thielen caught 69 passes for 967 yards last season, emerging as perhaps the Vikings' best downfield threat late in the season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Thielen was the only receiver on the roster who averaged more than 10 air yards per target, with an average pass traveling 10.68 yards when it was thrown his way. Stefon Diggs, who averaged 8.51 air yards per target, was the only other Vikings receiver above the league average of 8.51 yards.

As he talked about his development in the NFL on Tuesday, Thielen was asked to think back to the scene in Cincinnati last August, when Bengals cornerbacks refused to cover him because they wanted to go "against some dogs." He said he expects more teams will pay attention to him, now that he's proved himself and earned a sizable raise, but Thielen didn't sound like he was about to leave his roots or the tenacity they helped create.

"I think there's a lot of unfinished business for me personally, and as a team," Thielen said. "I think there's a lot of motivation in that itself. I think there's a lot of people that still don't believe in me, and obviously, I love proving people wrong and helping the football team win games any possible way I can."