Adam Thielen is a household name across the country, undoubtedly one of the most popular athletes in Minnesota and perhaps the best player at his position in the NFL.
The Vikings wide receiver is a superstar, currently leading the league with 74 catches for 925 yards, and he has six touchdowns to his name.
Thielen’s journey from Minnesota State University, Mankato, to All-Pro player has been well-documented, but ESPN Vikings beat reporter Courtney Cronin took a look at Thielen’s early tenure with the Vikings – and the days leading up – in a recent feature.
Cronin chatted with everyone from Thielen himself to Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and former coaches and teammates to chronicle the wide receiver’s first few days in Purple.
There were 967 draft-eligible wide receivers in 2013. Five years later, only 12 of them play in the NFL. One of those players comes from a Division II college program.
Thielen’s rise … is rooted in determination, hard work and making the most of every opportunity. It’s the basis of what led him to an NFL-record eight straight games with 100 yards receiving and leading the league with 925 yards receiving.
His underdog story is a tale of perseverance, but there’s one under-reported element of Thielen’s journey: How he got on the Vikings roster in the first place. This is a look at how the Vikings found a virtually unknown college receiver at a rookie tryout in May 2013.
Cronin delved into the step-by-step process that led to Thielen landing with the Vikings, including how he was hardly looked at coming out of college and the impression he made once he arrived in Minnesota for rookie minicamp.
Cronin spoke with Spielman to see what he remembered during that first weekend.
"When you saw him practice during that minicamp, just the natural instincts as a football player, knowing where to settle between zones when they’re running plays and knowing how to get open. He had a natural instinct for that, and he picked up the playbook like that [snaps fingers],” Spielman said.
Thielen also chimed in on those early days, including going against Xavier Rhodes in practice. The Vikings cornerback had just been a first-round pick by Minnesota less than a week before matching up against Thielen.
Thielen said: "When you’re a competitor, you just want to go against the best. Xavier was a guy coming out of college that was highly thought of, and then obviously drafted in the first round. You want to go against guys like that."
Both players were All-Pro selections for their play during the 2017 season.
Cronin included voices from nine different people in the lengthy feature, which can be found here.
Experts predict wild finish in NFC North
The race for the NFC North title is expected to come down to the wire.
Cynthia Frelund of NFL.com recently projected the win total of each team for the second half of the season.
Frelund has the Vikings, who are currently 4-3-1, finishing with an even eight wins. Frelund wrote that the Vikings will need to hold onto the ball down the stretch if they want a chance at the playoffs.
The Vikings seven giveaways (three interceptions, four fumbles) under pressure lead the NFL. When you consider that Kirk Cousins has been pressured at the highest rate in the NFL (36.5 percent), it's clear Minnesota will have to address this if it wants to make the playoffs.
Frelund calculated Green Bay to finish with nine wins, Chicago to end the year with 8.9 wins and Detroit to have 6.5 wins in 2018.
With a difference of just 2.5 games between all of the NFC North teams, a win here or there could propel one team to a division title and a playoff spot.
The Vikings, Bears and Lions each have five division games remaining, while the Packers have three NFC North contests left.