One of the most amazing stories spanning the last two football seasons has unfolded in Minnesota, where a little-known player from a little-known school in a little-known town somehow has become not just a member of an NFL roster or a starting-caliber player but a Pro Bowler and a second-team All-Pro.
Vikings receiver Adam Thielen, undrafted and unwanted, has gone from surviving to thriving to dominating during his time with the local NFL team. So does he ever reflect on how far he has come?
“I really don’t,” Thielen said during a recent visit to PFT Live. “I think when I’m done playing and I’m retired I’ll look back at it and be able to reflect on that. Honestly, right now I’m just having fun playing football. The crazy thing is it doesn’t really seem any different. It doesn’t feel like I’m in the NFL. I’m just playing football, what I’ve done since I was a little boy. It doesn’t feel any different than high school practices or college practices or games. I’m just having fun being on the field.”
He said he realized that football didn’t feel any different when he found himself competing at a high level during NFL practices in his first year as a member of Minnesota’s practice squad.
“[W]hen we got to the regular season and I was on practice squad going against the starters every day and I was holding my own,” Thielen said, “I think that was when I was kind of like, ‘Man, I’m better than just a practice squad guy. I can play at this level and I’m consistently beating these guys in practice so why can’t I do it on Sundays?’ That was kind of the moment where I really gained confidence and really felt like, ‘Hey, if I just get the opportunity I can do this.'”
He continues to do it by taking it one day at a time. It’s a cliche, but it works for Thielen.
“Trying to get better every day,” he said. “There’s things that I feel that on a weekly basis I feel like I need to work on and things to make me more comfortable when I’m on the field. For me, like I said, I’m just taking it one day at a time and trying to focus on the little things. . . . I’ve always been just so in the moment. I’ve always just focused on what’s in front of me. Every day the guy across from me, I just want to beat him. I don’t really care if it’s a guy in college a guy in high school then, obviously, when I got to the NFL. I didn’t really care who it was across from me. I wanted to beat him and, like I said, just be the best player I could be.”
He got to where he is in part by emulating Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, a sixth-round pick from Central Michigan who has gone on to become the best receiver in the league, and this year’s only unanimous All-Pro selection at any position.
“You see him week in and week out, getting double covered, teams completely trying to take him away and he’s still leading the entire NFL in yards catches,” Thielen said. “It’s really unbelievable what he’s been able to do and just the way that he works. I was able to go down to Miami a couple summers ago with Teddy [Bridgewater] and he was out there and just the way that he prepares and works in the offseason is really unbelievable. It kind of opened my eyes to see how top players in the NFL, how they work and how they train and he’s one of the best out there.”
Now Thielen is, too. And he’s still striving to get better.
“Every offseason, I kind of put together a plan that I want to get more explosive,” Thielen said. “I want to get more physical on the line of scrimmage and be better with my feet at the line of scrimmage because I think in this league that’s how you win. You win at the line of scrimmage and obviously with your explosiveness and then your speed down the field. I think it’s just been a progression through my years in the NFL. Obviously it’s something that I need to continue to do. This offseason, I’m going to put together a plan of things I need to get better at and to help me just further my career.”
One thing is certain: The list of things he needs to get better at is shrinking.