MINNEAPOLIS -- By Sunday, the first Minnesota Vikings wide receiver to cross the 1,000-yard barrier since 2009 could be a player who was once held in such little regard, he could only muster up a rookie camp tryout in 2013.
Adam Thielen's career at Division II Minnesota State, on the same fields where the Vikings train each summer, ended with a 1,176-yard season in 2012. And even though the 6-foot-3 Thielen had run a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at a super regional combine before the 2013 draft, no team thought enough of him to sign him as a rookie free agent that spring.
He was brought in to the Vikings' 2013 rookie camp as a tryout player -- essentially, as an accessory that would help fill out the rosters that weekend and could be dispatched easily unless he caught someone's eye. And even when Thielen beat out Eastern Washington's Nicholas Edwards in the three-day session to earn a contract, he went to Vikings training camp as an extra with an endearing backstory.
Now, the 26-year-old who'd spent a year on the Vikings' practice squad and two more as a special teams contributor, could surpass the 1,000-yard mark this weekend.
Thielen has 960 yards for the season after catching 12 balls for 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Green Bay on Saturday. He became just the third receiver in Vikings history to post 200 yards and two scores in the same game and came eight yards from matching Sammy White's single-game franchise record of 210. Thielen leads the team in receiving yards, is second in touchdowns and is tops in yards per catch.
Not bad for a guy whom the Cincinnati Bengals cornerbacks refused to face in a joint practice this summer because they wanted to match up with some "dogs."
"One of the players said to me on the sideline, ‘This guy’s just a football player.’ And that’s what he is,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s a guy that goes out and makes plays. When his opportunity is there, he goes out and makes catches. I think the biggest thing about Adam is that he’s a great competitor.”
The Detroit Lakes, Minnesota native, who ranks third among NFL undrafted free agents in receiving yards this season, will be a restricted free agent after the season, which means he's due for a notable raise. The Vikings will likely put a high enough tender on Thielen to dissuade other teams from signing him, and they could pursue a multi-year deal with him at some point.
He co-founded a gym with his longtime trainer in the Twin Cities this summer, and his wife Caitlin gave birth to the couple's first child this fall. Thielen has begun working with Bolder Options, a Minneapolis-based non-profit that facilitates mentorships based on athletics and activities. The player who began his Vikings career as an afterthought has never seemed more like a fixture in the organization.
"It's great to have the support, and I feel it," Thielen said. "From Day 1, when I was on the practice squad, to now, it's been unbelievable -- people from Minnesota kind of taking me under their wing and just rooting for me. I appreciate all that, and I'm just going to try to get better every day."