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Adam Thielen is rewarding the Vikings’ patience with monster performances

Anyone could have scooped Thielen off Minnesota’s practice squad. Washington wishes it did.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Washington Redskins Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

In 2017, only three players have recorded multiple games with 150-plus yards receiving. The first two are well known to even casual NFL fans — T.Y Hilton and Antonio Brown. The third is the pride of Minnesota State University.

Vikings receiver Adam Thielen stamped his name alongside the league’s receiving aristocracy by carving up Washington Sunday, teaming with quarterback Case Keenum in a pairing of second-chance players made good. He finished his Sunday with eight catches for 166 yards and a touchdown as Minnesota strengthened its hold on the top spot in the NFC North with a 38-30 victory.

It’s just another in a growing list of monster performances from a formerly anonymous receiver. Thielen put himself on the league’s radar last season with 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a Week 16 rivalry matchup against the Packers. Sunday’s performance marked his fifth career game with at least 100 yards receiving.

His emergence has been a long-running storyline in the Twin Cities. The 6’2 receiver went undrafted in 2013 after a prolific career at Division II Minnesota State. He signed with the Vikings as a free agent that summer, but the 31 other NFL teams still had the chance to sign him away after he was relegated to the team’s practice squad for the bulk of his rookie season.

His first active roster duty didn’t come until 2014, where his value on special teams made him a contributor. Thielen was named NFC North Special Teams Player of the Year by Pro Football Focus that fall, then was named Minnesota’s Special Teams Player of the Year the following year. In the meantime, he honed his receiving chops, waiting for his chance to make an impact.

That came in 2016. With Sam Bradford under center, the Minnesota native developed into his team’s No. 2 wideout behind Stefon Diggs, giving the team a solid deep threat who could also catch the ball near the line of scrimmage and over the middle. He finished the year with 69 receptions for 967 yards.

More quarterback turmoil threatened to derail his explosive growth, but Thielen’s performance has found a way to elevate himself, his team, and the former Rams and Texans castoff Keenum. He exploded for what was then the biggest performance of his season in an opening weekend win over the Saints with nine catches on 10 targets for 157 yards. On Sunday, he found a way to top that.

It started with a short pass over the middle that Thielen turned into a 38-yard gain by turning on his jets and moving upfield. A drive later, he was responsible for the 62 yards and the touchdown that gave Minnesota a 21-17 lead.

His pace would slow in the second half as the Vikings worked to protect their lead on the road. That was seemingly the only thing that could keep him from another 200-yard performance. Had he found a way to pull it off, he would have been the first Minnesota receiver in franchise history with multiple 200-plus yard performances. While he fell short, he still managed to join another exclusive club Sunday.

To even be in position to pencil his name in the record books ahead of legends like Cris Carter and Randy Moss shows just how impressive Thielen’s rise has been. Minnesota is in a tremendous position to return to the postseason as NFC North champions, and a little-known fifth-year receiver has been a major part of that revival. Thielen’s versatility and strong hands have opened up the Vikings’ offense and given a twice-passed over quarterback like Keenum a chance to thrive.

After Sunday’s performance against Washington, he won’t be little-known for much longer.