The NFL’s leader in touchdown catches? Vikings’ Adam Thielen

Adam Thielen #19 of the Minnesota Vikings catches a touchdown pass against Anthony Brown #30 of the Dallas Cowboys in the third quarter during their game at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 22, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. ((Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images))

Adam Thielen has made the most of his opportunities when the Minnesota Vikings have gotten in the red zone this season.

He hopes that chance comes his way against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, but his status for the game is not clear after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday. He’s the sixth player to go on the list in the last month, and it means he’s either tested positive or come in close contact with a carrier.

Regardless, after a frustrating 2019 season, Thielen has put himself back among the top receivers in the NFL in 2020. After scoring two touchdowns last Sunday, Thielen leads the NFL with 11 scores through 10 games.

He joined elite company, as the last Vikings’ receiver to have at least 10 touchdowns through 10 games was Randy Moss in 2003. Thielen has been targeted 17 times in the red zone through 10 games. He's made 14 of the 17 catches, and has 10 of his 11 touchdowns out of the red zone.

Thielen has become a trusted target the closer Vikings get to scoring.

“I think he’s a trusted target everywhere. His best asset is he catches the ball great and he’s very competitive. Those two things, and he’s very smart,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.

A pair of touchdowns the past two weeks has the attention of NFL fans across the country. On Monday Night Football against the Chicago Bears, Kirk Cousins hit Thielen for their first score. With a defender draped on him, Thielen managed to find the throw, reel it in with one arm and gather it before falling to the ground.

Sunday, Thielen made a one-handed catch on a fade route to open the third quarter, getting both feet in while being held on the play. They’re highlight reel catches to fans. Cousins sees it all the time in practice.

“It was a tremendous catch. He’s capable of that daily at practice and you see it so much that I’m probably not as wowed as others because I see it all the time,” Cousins said. Just a tremendous effort, the combination of the catch but the ability to keep your feet down and get two feet in. It’s one more reason why he’s such a great player and has had such great production for so many years.”

Thielen finished Sunday with eight catches on 11 targets for 123 yards and two touchdowns. He’s had four multi-touchdown games this season, and Sunday marked his third 100-yard game and a season-high for yardage.

"Just trying to make a play to help this team win football games," Thielen has said on multiple occasions this season.

It’s refreshing to see after missing five games last season due to a hamstring injury, then dealing with a laceration on his heel while suffered in practice in preparing for their playoff game at San Francisco. Two years ago, he made history with eight straight 100-yard games to start the season.

Thielen’s story is well-chronicled by now. The Detroit Lakes native played Division II football at Minnesota State-Mankato and was preparing for a life outside of football before the Vikings signed him as an undrafted college free agent.

From starting on special teams to getting reps as a wide receiver, his approach has never changed: Get better every day, grind and focus on what you can control. It’s turned him into one of the best receivers in the NFL.