The morning after each Vikings game, beat writer Ben Goessling dives in for a deeper look at a key aspect of how the Vikings played, and what it means for the team going forward:
It would have seemed preposterous at the beginning of the 2016 season, and perhaps even improbable at the start of this season. But with each passing week, and each standout performance from Adam Thielen, the wide receiver does more to put himself in the same sentence with the receiver he idolized as a kid in Detroit Lakes: Randy Moss.
After posting six catches for 123 yards and a 65-yard touchdown on Sunday, Thielen has 916 yards through 10 games of the season. That’s the third-most in franchise history through 10 games, behind only Moss’ totals in 2000 and 2003.
What’s more, Thielen has done it by becoming the kind of downfield threat the Vikings simply haven’t had since Moss turned the Metrodome into the most electric building in the NFL.
Thielen has 16 catches of 20 yards or more through 10 games, already matching his total from last season and tying him with Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown for the NFL lead in catches of 20-plus yards this season.
Since Moss’ time as a dominant receiver in Minnesota ended in 2005, only one Vikings receiver has posted more grabs of 20-plus yards in an entire season than Thielen’s 16. That distinction belongs, as many post-Moss Vikings receiving accolades do, to Sidney Rice, who caught 19 passes of 20-plus yards from Brett Favre in 2009. Rice had 1,312 yards that season, but the Vikings haven’t had a receiver surpass 1,000 yards since then.
It should be Thielen who ends that drought, possibly as soon as Thursday in Detroit. He’s on pace for 99 catches, 1,465 yards and five touchdowns. In every aspect but TDs, that’d be the best season by a Vikings receiver since Moss was the headliner. And none of that takes into account the things Thielen does as a blocker (or, for that matter, what he used to do as a special teamer).
“The guy is a gamer,” coach Mike Zimmer said last Monday. “When he gets the opportunities, he makes the most of them. Adam does a lot of dirty work, he blocks defensive ends, he blocks linebackers in the run game. He’s just a competitive guy.”
Already, Thielen is outperforming the four-year, $22 million deal he signed in March. He’s only 27, and counts just $3.746 million against the Vikings’ salary cap this season. His 2018 cap figure will be only $4 million.
That’s a bargain for a player who’s been, in every respect, one of the game’s best for the past season and a half. He’s an unlikely candidate to sit on Moss’ throne, given his path from Detroit Lakes through Minnesota State-Mankato, but he’s here nonetheless.
“Obviously Randy is an idol of mine, a guy who made me want to play the game and made me want to play receiver,” Thielen said. “I’m very thankful for what he did for me and this game. Obviously I have a lot of respect for him, but I’m not really even thinking about stats right now or anything like that. Just trying to win games.”