Vikings' Thielen no longer ignored by opposing teams - and delivery guys
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.—Vikings receiver Adam Thielen played last month in a nationally televised celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe. He stopped during his round for a live interview with NBC.
Through it all, the 27-year-old former Minnesota State Mankato athlete from Detroit Lakes insists life is no different for him.
"No," he said. "I'm just trying to keep it the same."
Thielen entered last season with an unimpressive professional résumé: one year on the Vikings' practice squad and two NFL seasons that produced all of 20 catches. Then came 2016, when he caught 69 passes for 967 yards, earning a three-year, $27 million contract extension.
After some probing, Thielen admitted to one thing that is quite different from a year ago.
He is quickly recognized by food delivery guys.
"A lot of times now, if you get delivery, somebody will be come back and ask, 'Are you the guy from the Vikings?' " Thielen said. "They recognize the name, for sure."
Opposing defenses pay more attention to him, too. After producing games of 101 and 202 yards receiving in the final month of last season, Thielen is counting on teams spending more time game-planning to stop him.
"I think there's going to be more focus than there was last year, early on in the season obviously," he said. "But at the same time, as long as you go about your business ..."
Going about his business is one reason Thielen made such a leap, and that has continued. On Friday, he stayed after practice as usual to do extra work.
Thielen also was interviewed by NBC sideline reporter Michele Tafoya for a segment that will be broadcast during Sunday's nationally televised preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The analyst for the game will be Cris Collinsworth, a Bengals receiver from 1981-88 and a three-time Pro Bowl selection. He watched Friday's practice and couldn't stop raving about Thielen.
"You love seeing guys that have just done the unexpected, like Wayne Chrebet and those kind of guys that sort of come out of nowhere," said Collinsworth, referring to the former New York Jets receiver, who like Thielen played his college ball at non-Division I school — then-Div. I-AA Hofstra. "It's a great story."
Collinsworth said Thielen's work ethic involves far more than just catching the ball.
"He works his tail off blocking," Collinsworth said. "He moved in there to the slot, and I think he's going to really help. I just told our producer, 'I bet you see the Vikings break off some long runs this year.' All their receivers block, but Adam is going inside there, he works his tail off to get in front of people and he gets on linebackers, and he's tenacious."
Collinsworth said playing more in the slot could lead to more catches for Thielen. He pointed to Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, a Minneapolis native, leading the NFL with 107 receptions after moving to that position last season.
Thielen quickly became one of Sam Bradford's favorite targets. The Vikings quarterback admits that he barely knew who Thielen was upon joining the team last September.
"Thielen has been extremely impressive," Bradford said. "We can really kind of move him all over. I think the mental side of his game is what has been very impressive. He's just got a very natural feel for how to run routes. I think with some guys they can only play on the outside, and they don't really have the feel for how to run routes and how to get open in the slot."
Thielen helped Bradford set an NFL completion percentage record of 71.6 last season. Thielen then became a restricted free agent, and the Vikings locked him up to his big deal.
That has led to some ribbing from special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer. He had Thielen regularly on his units in 2014 and 2015 and some last season, and now he wonders what 2016 might bring.
"I tease him because (now that) he got paid he's not going to play special teams anymore," Priefer said.
Leave it to Thielen, though, to say that lining up on Priefer's units might not completely change.
"I like being on those special teams because ultimately that's what got me here, so it's kind of a pride of mine," Thielen said.
Thielen breaks out
Adam Thielen's NFL statistics:
Vikings vs. 49ers > 7 p.m. Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium
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