EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Adam Thielen’s record-setting season has the NFL world abuzz. Thielen topped 1,000 yards in his first 11 games this season, becoming the first Vikings receiver to reach that mark (along with 70 catches) since Randy Moss in 2003.
Minnesota’s receivers haven’t relished these types of accomplishments for years. But it’s the story behind Thielen’s journey from an undrafted Division II star to one of the best receivers in the NFL that has captivated many, including Moss.
Moss was in town Wednesday to shoot a feature with Thielen that will air Sunday on ESPN's NFL Countdown. He talked about Thielen’s statistical achievements, what’s sparked his recent surge, his biggest asset and more.
Thielen’s story of growing up a fan of yours in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, and now getting to live out his dream of playing for the Vikings, is well-documented. Do you remember the first time you got to meet him?
Randy Moss: I think it was at U.S. Bank Stadium. A great friend, Tom West, who works here in the PR department, was talking about him, how big of a fan he was, how he followed me, Mankato State. I kind of knew about him. Didn’t follow him. I’m not going to sit here and lie. Being a wide receiver, I’ve been able to really start paying attention to him. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve really seen him explode. It’s a good feeling. I know his history from being undrafted to where he is now. It felt good knowing that he’s here in Minnesota doing some great things.
How do you feel sharing a stat line with Thielen, being Vikings receivers to reach 900 and 1,000 yards, respectively, in the first 10 and 11 weeks of the season?
Moss: One thing I’ve learned is to be able to take things in stride. One of my little sayings was, "Records are meant to be broken." Sometimes you look at certain things or certain records or accomplishments and you’re like, "OK, whatever. Congratulations." Then there’s other ones where you look at it like, "Well, I’d like to keep that one." I look at all my accomplishments and my achievements and the only one I really ever cared about -- other than winning a Super Bowl ring -- for an individual goal was 23 touchdowns. Something I had my mind, my heart, my soul on because football is not an individual sport. Sometimes you do get the individual accolades, so for me being able to put my focus into breaking 23 touchdowns, all the other records and accomplishments really didn’t mean anything to me. It was me just going out there and playing ball. But 23 touchdowns really did mean something to me.
For Thielen’s sake, him to be able to reach that goal is an accomplishment for him. I heard that there’s only two Vikings wide receivers to do that [reach 900 yards in the first 10 games and 1,000 in the first 11]. It’s a good feeling. I’ve always wanted to leave that good impression on people because I did put my heart and soul in this game. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t win a Super Bowl ring here. Looking back and seeing the direction they’re headed, that’s why I’m excited about seeing Thielen -- a wide receiver. They’ve drafted wide receivers in the past and brought wide receivers in. For a guy to come in with his story and his background, I think that’s why I’m here. It’s a great story.
What are you seeing from Thielen in this recent stretch? Despite some big numbers, he didn’t score a touchdown in the first seven weeks. What’s behind that surge?
Moss: I really think he’s a little more focused. What I mean by "focused" -- you look at the play against the Rams where he caught it, spun out then got up the sideline. He’s not the fastest dude, but I think he will to want to do it, to make it happen, that’s really what stands out to me. He’s not coming out here with a lot of rah-rah. He’s not giving you the "Ooooooh" like Antonio Brown or Julio Jones. He’s not giving you that. What he’s giving you is consistent play. He’s bringing his lunch pail to work. What he’s been able to do along with [quarterback Case] Keenum, along with the defense, he’s uplifted this Minnesota Vikings team. I know from being able to listen to the fans, what I mean to the fan base and being able to see a guy come in, not comparing his numbers to mine, but to be able to see him scoring touchdowns, doing the things that they drafted a lot of wide receivers in the past to do and they just couldn’t do it. His story is what makes you cheer for him and not just him making plays last week, two weeks ago.
When did you realize Thielen was more than just a great story?
Moss: One of my biggest questions for him is how he’s transformed from not seeing coverage, not being game planned for. Where you’re just going out there warming up, as soon as the ball’s kicked off, whatever personnel they call, whatever play they call, you run it. If you have success, OK. Now it’s more that teams are game planning for you where you know you’re seeing certain coverages and coaches are telling you to be prepared for certain coverages. I would just like to know what’s the difference and how does he prepare.
The biggest thing to me that really stands out is not really where he stands with the other wide receivers. He has something different than those other guys. The other guys are great players but they "wow" you in other ways. Thielen is not a "wower." He’s not going to wow you, but he will bring you out of your seat. That’s the difference between him and the elite guys. The elite guys are going to wow you. I’m not putting him in a class and I’m not taking him out of a class. What he’s doing is a little different than Julio Jones, Keenan Allen. At the beginning of the season, teams weren’t game planning for him, and I don’t think a lot of people understand what an actual game plan is. You hear, "The game plan is to stop Randy Moss." That’s what you hear. Let’s go through the week of game planning. I would like to know how he approaches the game differently where early in his career or even earlier in the season it was just -- let’s roll the dice. Now they have to move him, they have to put him in different positions, they have to be able to change up the offensive scheme to try and help him get the ball.
Is there anything from his skill set that compares to yours?
Moss: No, he’s different. I like his body control. One of the biggest things I tried to work on a lot was body control: being in the air, being off-balance. We’re different wide receivers.
There’s a lot of things he’s doing that are going unnoticed, and it’s not scoring touchdowns. It’s his presence and his story. And I think the game planning of how he changes his preparation and how he approaches the game differently now [that is different] than two months ago.
You were at the Vikings' season opener and had a chance to see this team from the beginning of the season. Is it hard to believe everything they’ve accomplished despite some less-than-ideal circumstances with injuries?
Moss: It really is just for the fact of everything that they’ve had to overcome: Who’s the quarterback? How is he going to play? Our running back going out, he’s on IR. We’re basically taking an offensive line and putting guys in places trying to see if it works. As far as what the wide receivers have done, I think that’s what’s really gone unnoticed because a lot of attention has been on Teddy [Bridgewater] and [Sam] Bradford and Keenum and Dalvin Cook. And then Stefon [Diggs] going down for a short period of time. And then this man [Thielen] is picking up like -- "Hey man, we did have two, but we don’t need two. I can be the man to carry us down the stretch." He hasn’t disappointed yet.
And I know this story is about Thielen, but when you look at Keenum staying there in the pocket, getting hit right square in his mouth. A lot of quarterbacks see a defensive lineman coming at them, a lot of them throw it and cringe. Where’s the accuracy? Keenum -- boom! -- is taking it right in his mouth. If those guys were dropping those balls, all of that would hurt. But for the fact that you have guys scoring, making big third-down catches, that doesn’t hurt. Y’all keep bringing it. I know this story is about Thielen, but Keenum’s doing some good things, too. When you look at the overall production from the passing game, that’s scary.