As the Vikings get ready to take on the Cardinals on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, wide receiver Adam Thielen will get a chance to continue chasing the records of one of his heroes, Randy Moss, while going up against another of his heroes, Larry Fitzgerald Jr., who will be on the field for Arizona in what may be his final game in his home city of Minneapolis.
Thielen has been on a tear to start the season, becoming the first receiver in the Super Bowl era to have 100 receiving yards in each of his first five games.
On top of that, he grabbed a crucial onside kick late in the Vikings’ 23-21 win over the Eagles last Sunday that secured the victory.
Thielen talked about his relationship with Fitzgerald, the Holy Angels graduate and future Hall of Famer.
“He is a guy that I grew up following, a guy that I have been around in the offseason training with him and things like that,” Thielen said. “I just know how hard he works and how successful he has been. I have really tried to emulate what I have done from him.”
Fitzgerald is the active leader in basically every receiving category and ranks third all-time in receptions (1,251) and receiving yards (15,721) and eighth in receiving touchdowns (110).
What Thielen said impressed him most about working out with Fitzgerald was his drive to get better even though his legacy was already firmly in place.
“The biggest thing about Larry is just the way he works. That was something when you’re not in the NFL or you don’t understand how hard guys work — especially guys who play a long time and are successful — that was something for me. This guy has been successful for a long time and he is still out there grinding in the summer and he probably doesn’t need to. When you see stuff like that it just makes you understand how important it is to take care of your body, to get out there and still get better at your routes even though you’ve been doing it for 10 years.”
Creating his own legacy
Thielen is in the process of creating his own legacy as a NFL wideout. Last season he finished with the seventh-most receptions (91) in a season in Vikings history and the ninth-most receiving yards (1,276).
But this year he is in the process of chasing down one of his biggest heroes in Moss, who owns almost every major Vikings single-season record.
Moss’ 1,632 receiving yards in 2003 are still the most ever for the Vikings, and through five games Thielen is ahead of the pace Moss set that season.
Thielen has 47 receptions for 589 yards through five games, and in 2003 Moss had 29 receptions for 515 yards through five games.
And while Thielen continues to chase great individual marks, what will always make him stand out is his status as an undrafted, Division II player from Minnesota State Mankato.
Consider that the other players in the top 10 in receiving yards this season — DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Michael Thomas, Cooper Kupp, Zach Ertz and Golden Tate — had an average draft position of 34th.
Thielen couldn’t crack the top 254 in the 2013 draft.
Cousins and Diggs the key
When he was asked what has changed from last season, when he broke out as a star player, to this season, when he may be the best receiver in the game, Thielen said it has had a lot to do with the weekly game plans and new quarterback Kirk Cousins.
“The coaching staff does a phenomenal job of putting us in positions to be able to do what we do really well. Obviously that helps,” Thielen said. “We were doing good things last year, as well. But when you have a franchise quarterback like we have now, and the guys we have in this locker room that are very selfless and a coaching staff that works their tails off to put us in good positions, all of that together usually is a pretty good thing.”
The Vikings pass offense, which currently ranks No. 2 in the NFL behind only the Los Angeles Rams, is especially lucky because they also have the great Stefon Diggs, who ranks 19th in receiving yards (402) and sixth in receptions (37).
No receiving duo in the NFL has as many combined yards as Diggs and Thielen. That threat has made life easier every week, Thielen said.
“We talk about it all the time, between him and I, about how much we appreciate one another because we really feed off of one another,” he said. “When he makes a play, it really puts me in the zone and gets me excited and gets me really into the game and vice versa.
“I’m so thankful for him to be on our side and be opposite of me. He’s a special player, and he has been huge for me.”
Yes, and Thielen thinks there’s less chance of a letdown after their big victory in Philadelphia and because the team should remember being embarrassed by Buffalo at home three weeks ago.
“Usually these are the things you try to build off of and use it as momentum and keep going,” he said.
• Mike Zimmer on the Arizona Cardinals: “They have a really fast defense, have a terrific corner in Patrick Peterson, they have a really good linebacker playing defensive end [Chandler Jones]. Offensively they’re a physical, downhill running team. David Johnson is an excellent back. They have a lot of speed at receiver, and Larry Fitzgerald is obviously a great player. Speed at tight end. Really, they are a very fast football team.”
• Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph ranks fifth at his position in first downs this season with 15. He said that he prides himself on that. “If I am catching balls and we’re converting first downs, that is what we want to do.”
• ESPN ran a note that Kirk Cousins is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when throwing under pressure, completing 64.7 percent of his passes with no picks in 51 attempts under duress.
• Stefon Diggs talked about running routes knowing that Cousins may throw before he has a chance to look back. “For us, we know Kirk is throwing to a spot and not a person. Of course he makes things happen back there, especially when he’s under pressure, but he’s throwing to a spot and you just have to be there.”
• Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs quarterback and son of former Twins pitcher Pat Mahomes, will make his biggest start of the season on Sunday night at New England. The 5-0 Chiefs also have Eric Bieniemy, the Vikings running backs coach from 2006 to ’10, as their offensive coordinator.
• Tod Leiweke was the first president of the Wild and will be the CEO and president of the new Seattle NHL franchise. His brother Tim Leiweke is the CEO of Oak View Group, which brought the team to Seattle.
• Former Timberwolves center Cole Aldrich has signed with the Tianjin Gold Lions in China to play this season.