The Incredible Story of Adam Thielen: The Unlikely Superstar

October 20, 2018

We are now through eight weeks of the NFL season, and one of the biggest surprises has been Adam Thielen’s dominance. Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen is taking the NFL by storm and is considered to be one of the favorites for NFL MVP, awarded to the most valuable player in the NFL. Thielen is leading the NFL in receiving yards (925), catches (74), targets (96), receiving yards per game (115.6) and first down receptions (49). He is also top four in touchdown receptions (6) and top nine in 20+ yard receptions (10). He is on pace to finish fifth in NFL history in receiving yards per game. On Sunday Night Football against the New Orleans Saints, Adam Thielen tied Calvin Johnson’s record 2012 season with the Detroit Lions, recording eight straight 100 yard performances. Adam Thielen’s road to making the NFL was nearly impossible. Thielen making an NFL roster, let alone his incredible production this year is one of the coolest stories in NFL history.

Thielen playing college football at Minnesota State-Mankato. Pat Christman/Mankato Free Press

It was a long road for Adam Thielen to gain traction from the NFL. Fresh out of playing Division II football at Minnesota State-Mankato, Theilen was setting his sights into selling dental equipment at Patterson Dental. A friend of a friend put in a good word for Adam at Patterson Dental.

Thielen grew up in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota pretending to be like Vikings legends Cris Carter and Randy Moss. A huge Vikings fan, Thielen dreamed of playing wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings.  After graduating from high school, Thielen was aiming to play Division III basketball, with a goal of also trying football as well. Two weeks before summer football camp, the head football coach at Minnesota State gave Thielen a short call, “We got 500 bucks for you. Come to Mankato.” Not even enough to cover his books, Thielen swiftly took the offer, as he got no other offers from any other school in the country. Thielen just wanted to play football, not expecting MS-Mankato as a stepping stone into the NFL.

Finding every way possible to get into the NFL, Thielen went to a Regional combine that included players who are either undersized or just straight up unknown. There were no scouts present, but Thielen tried his hardest to do well on the 40-yard dash, the best way to get invited to the Super Regional Combine. After the Regional combine, Thielen was constantly refreshing his computer all-night long to see the results of the Regional combine and ultimately, the 40-yard dash. After hours of refreshing the page, nothing happened. All of a sudden, Thielen’s combine results populated the screen and the fate of his entire childhood was hanging in the balance. Anxiously looking at his results, the 40-yard dash read… 4.45 seconds, a speed that would catch the attention of the committee at the Super Regional Combine and some scouts pulled him over to talk and acquire his college tape.

The NFL draft came and went as well as the undrafted free agency period after the draft. But the final wave of NFL signees went Thielen’s way. He was invited to two rookie camps, one being the Carolina Panthers and the other being the Minnesota Vikings. Thielen was incredibly excited to get an offer by his childhood favorite Minnesota Vikings, but nonetheless, he still needed to impress, work very hard and have a backup plan for whatever the future held. On a tryout basis, Thielen and many other “rookie tryout” players were competing against drafted players who would make the team as well as undrafted free agents who were looking to make the 90-man roster. From day 1 of rookie camp, Thielen constantly worked his way up and stood out to the coaches. After a week of rookie camp, Thielen was officially signed to make the roster as the 90th man of the 90-man training camp roster. Thielen was signed over another wide receiver the Vikings had already paid a signing bonus to. Adam went home feeling ecstatic, celebrating with friends and family ahead of official training camp with the veterans. His dream since high school was to play in the Metrodome, and that dream was accomplished by playing preseason football games for the Vikings while on the practice squad.

Numerous more aspirations and goals would be accomplished by Adam. He would not make the final 53-man roster in 2013 after training camp but was signed to the practice squad shortly after. In 2014, Thielen made the game active 53-man roster for some weeks based on when the Vikings needed healthy wide receivers to be available. Each successive year since producing in real NFL games in 2014, Thielen has improved his production and value to the Vikings greatly. In 2016, Thielen recorded 69 receptions for 967 yards and 5 touchdowns in his first full season in Minnesota. In 2017, Thielen would become one of the better receivers in the NFL, improving to 91 catches for 1,276 yards and 4 touchdowns. In the annual NFL Top 100 players list, Thielen was voted on as the 36th best player in the NFL in 2017. This year Adam Thielen has been the most productive receiver in the NFL in nearly every category. A centerpiece of Minnesota’s pass-friendly offense led by star quarterback Kirk Cousins, Thielen is certainly in the conversation for the NFL MVP award. Since graduating college at Minnesota State-Mankato and planning on selling dental equipment, it’s fair to say Adam Thielen has come a long way. He is the NFL’s most unlikely superstar.

Adam Thielen celebrating a first down as a member of the Minnesota Vikings

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