Unpopular Opinions

Unpopular Opinion: Adam Thielen's about to rewrite record book

Listen, I don't try to live my life as a contrarian. That's not true -- I kind of do. I spend a lot of time in public houses and taverns, and I have a two-hour commute that allows me to hear a lot of the sports world's most popular opinions. Sometimes, I think it's best to take a look at the other side.

In this space, I articulate positions that are the opposite of what most people think -- unpopular opinions, if you will -- and explain why, well, my unpopular opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. Here is my take on a wide receiver who's gunning for that No. 1 spot, whether you realize it or not.

2012 was wild, man. And I'm not talking about the film) with John Cusack and my favorite, Amanda Peet. I'm talkin' the year. The world was supposed to end -- actually, I guess I am kinda talking about the film -- as the Mayan calendar was drawing to a close. And NFL players sure balled like it was humanity's last hurrah. J.J. Watt, Aldon Smith and Von Miller made valiant runs at Michael Strahan's single-season sack record. Adrian Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards, averaging 131.1 per game. It was pretty great.

But nobody was better than Calvin Johnson.

"Megatron" lived up to his nickname, making a mockery of opposing defenses. He nearly posted the first 2,000-yard receiving season, eventually settling for an NFL-record 1,964 yards. (While he was targeted 14 times in Week 17, Johnson was held to five catches for 72 yards, leaving him 36 short of 2K.) It looked like some kid in Grosse Pointe was playing "Madden" on rookie level with one goal in mind: to have Megatron rule the football universe.

It was probably the most impressive season I have ever witnessed from a wideout. Well, until a certain Minnesota Vikings receiver decided to start wrecking shop this year.

I'm going to just come right out and say it: Adam Thielen is going to end up having the best season ever for a wide receiver.

The sixth-year pro, who went undrafted out of Minnesota State, is going to break Johnson's single-season yardage record. And Marvin Harrison's single-season receptions mark (143). And if you give him a chance, he's going for 200 receptions. OK, maybe not -- but I felt like I needed a third bold proclamation. Let's stick with the first two.

Can we have some real talk about Thielen? Now, I don't want to fall into a recent trend of me yelling at you for disrespecting some of the game's superstars. We're past that. But it would be nice if some of you in the media could spell the guy's name correctly ...

Oh, pooper. That was me. My bad. But that's a valid question. Not just, Is Thielen in the upper echelon of receivers? -- no, I'm asking whether he's No. 1. The best of the best, topping Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr. and all the rest. He's not there yet. But the real question is, how much shame are you willing to endure for thousands of likes on Twitter? Because I was a few hours (and a couple thousand likes) in before I realized I had misspelled Thielen's name. Which a bunch of you nerds took great delight in pointing out. But you know what? I'm a fallible human being. I'm not so sure Thielen is.

Fresh off his first Pro Bowl season, Thielen has opened up the 2018 campaign with 58 catches in just six games. That puts him on pace for 155, which would blow past Harrison's aforementioned record by a dozen grabs. Not to mention, he's posted six straight 100-yard games. Even in this pass-friendly era, that's a remarkable level of consistency. The only thing more consistent than Thielen? That no matter where your seat is on the airplane, the guy next to you is going to be manspreading and taking up the armrest. (And there's a 50/50 chance the guy has his shoes off. There just is.)

Thielen is two games off the all-time single-season record for most consecutive games with 100-plus receiving yards, set by -- SPOILER ALERT -- Calvin Johnson in 2012. Thielen will get to seven this week, because he has the Jets, who haven't been able to stop anybody in the slot this year. In fact, Pro Football Focus has listed Thielen's matchup against rookie Parry Nickerson as the most lopsided WR-CB duel of the weekend. Nickerson, the Curt Hawkins of the NFL. So, not only had you better hope you're not going against Thielen in your fantasy league, but Flipper Anderson should start to sweat, too. Anderson set the NFL single-game mark with 336 receiving yards against the Saints in 1989.

The last person to really challenge that mark? Of course, it's Calvin Johnson. Do you think I would bring that up if it wasn't? Do you think I would have mentioned it had it been Herman Moore? What's interesting to note is that Megatron put up 329 against the Cowboys in 2013, the year after he set that single-season mark.

Speaking of that season again ... Calvin Johnson averaged 122.8 yards per game in 2012. That's the fourth-highest total in league history, behind Wes Chandler (129.0 in 1982), Charley Hennigan (124.7 in 1961) and Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch (124.6 in 1951). But Megatron played in a 16-game season. Thielen is currently a bit under those guys, averaging 118.7 yards. That would get him to 1,899, which would be the second-highest total in NFL history. But I truly believe he's going to pick up the pace here.

What we've seen of the 2018 Vikings is a team that's going to need to score to win. The defense isn't the dominant force we anticipated. Shootouts loom. Meanwhile, Vikings' offensive line has struggled to open holes and establish a running attack. (Don't let a one-week aberration against the listless Cardinals' run defense fool you.) Thus, Kirk Cousins has to air it out in order for Minnesota to come out on top.

I might need to give a little bit of love to Stefon Diggs here, too. Diggs takes a lot of the attention away from opposing defenses. Like the way Lady Gaga draws away your attention in "A Star is Born," and Bradley Cooper goes out there and crushes it. And I'm not saying that if they wanted to make a movie of about Thielen's life, that Cooper would be a nice choice, even if he's not quite age-appropriate. Who am I kidding? They'd probably just stick Miles Teller in there. But Diggs, by thriving out wide, is going to make sure Thielen not only gets these records -- he might put them out of reach.

And while this will once again seem like it's me trying to force the Bears into the conversation ... The NFC North is the best it's been in years. The Packers are the Packers. No matter how deep a hole they dig, Aaron Rodgers finds a way to rally them back. The Lions aren't terrible, which seems like the nicest thing you can ever say about the Lions. The Bears have a legitimate offense. And a free safety who doesn't like to tackle. Thus, NFC North games are gonna be highly competitive -- and for the Vikes, highly pass-centric. No pounding the football and running out the clock in a blowout.

So, the opportunity will be there for Thielen to continue on this ridiculous pace. He is going to end up posting the best WR season ever, and I'm certainly here for it. Thielen highlights are something I can re-watch over and over again. Unlike that dreadful "2012" movie. Sorry, Amanda.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @AdamRank.

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