An Appreciation of Pierre Thomas

Holla back, PT. This shout-out post is for you!! Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

A little over five years ago, just after the 2007 NFL Draft (April 30, to be exact), the New Orleans Saints signed a little-known UDFA running back out of Illinois, Pierre Thomas, to a three-year rookie contract, and little did we all know that it would turn out to be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Stu recently sent me a link to an article about PT and his drop rate among running backs from 2009-2011 that Pro Football Focus published midweek, and reminded me that he deserves our appreciation. (For the record, he sent it to me two days before this article link appeared in the Saints official twitter feed.)

I thought that was a fine idea, so here it is, a quantitative and qualitative non-homer appreciation of Saints running back Pierre Thomas.

Author's note: despite my best efforts, it actually gets @just a teensy bit homer-ish@ at the end...

By clicking on the link above, you can go and read the entire article on PFF, so I'll just summarize and then pull-quote a bit...

I think it's safe to say that we're all aware that PT rocks the screen pass for the Saints, but just how great is he? (uh oh, this is sounding like a set-up to a punchline)

To nail it down more concretely with a stat point, in short, he's just awesome at catching balls thrown close to him, leading all NFL running backs in drop rate at 2.5% (3 drops out of 120 catchable balls) over the last three seasons.

Players who can stick their chest outs with a bit of pride are guys like Pierre Thomas. The underrated back never gets his due playing in a timeshare in New Orleans, but in dropping just 2.5% of all catchable passes you add another dimension when debating why he is so good.

Interesting sidebar: former Saints RB Reggie Bush comes in at No. 3 on this list with only 4 drops out of 128 catchable balls (3.1% drop rate).

With that tasty little PT nugget serving as an appetizer, let's go ahead and dig a little deeper into what he's meant to this team since playing his way onto the squad during 2007's training camp, knocking aside the more-heralded fourth-round draft choice, Antonio Pittman (while becoming one of only two rookie free agents to make the Saints' opening day roster that year).

Here are his year-by-year and career totals in rushing and receiving (source):

Rushes

Yards

Avg.

TDs

Rec.

Yards

Avg.

TDs

Ru/Rec. Yards

Ru./Rec. TDs

2007

52

252

4.8

1

17

151

8.9

1

403

2

2008

129

625

4.8

9

31

284

9.2

3

909

12

2009

147

793

5.4

6

39

302

7.7

2

1095

8

2010

83

269

3.2

2

29

201

6.9

0

470

2

2011

110

562

5.1

5

50

425

8.5

1

987

6

Career

521

2501

4.8

23

166

1363

8.2

7

3864

30

And here are just some of the bits and pieces of his greatness that don't show up in the season/career stat box. Check my source to get the whole story from which these are culled.

  • In 2007 and 2008, he also contributed significantly as a return man, with 67 KO returns for 1658 yards (24.7 avg.).
  • First career start as a Saint was in his Chicago hometown in 2007, and it was a doozy: 20 carries, 105 yards; 12 catches, 121 yards and a TD, becoming the first Saint ever to go over 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in the same game. The 226 yards from scrimmage was the third-highest total in team history. In this game, he also ran in a two-point conversion and had a forced fumble on an interception that led to a New Orleans field goal.
  • In 2008, he led the team in rushing, scoring, and kickoff returns. He also scored a touchdown in six straight games to tie Dalton Hilliard's team record.
  • Led the team in rushing for the second straight year in 2009, and led the team in total yards from scrimmage. His 5.4 average yards per carry was 4th in the league that year and the Saints' second-best single season average.
  • PT cruised through the 2009 postseason, leading the Saints in rushing with 36 carries for 143 yards (4.0 avg) and one TD to go with 12 receptions for 111 yards with two TDs, leading NFL backs in postseason receptions and tying for second with three total TDs. Thomas' team-high postseason 254 yards from scrimmage was the sixth-highest total by an undrafted player in NFL history...He really turned it on in the NFC Championship, with a 38-yard screen pass in which he dodged Viking defenders all the way to the end zone, and the ultimate OT performance on the game-winning field goal drive in overtime, where he set up the drive with a 40-yard kickoff return and converted on a key fourth-and-one situation with a two-yard dive over the offensive line. In this game, Thomas became only the ninth undrafted player since the merger to score two TDs in a postseason contest. In SB XLIV, he led the team with 85 yards from scrimmage, including a SWEET 16-yard catch and run ending in a perfect dive for the TD.
  • Was off to a good start in 2010 before an ankle injury caused him be inactive for nine straight games, and he even stepped up to take over KO return duties in December after Courtney Roby suffered a concussion. He missed the season finale and the wild card game after re-injuring his ankle.
  • Bounced back in 2011 for a full season of production (playing in all 16 games with seven starts), including these achievements: scored his 23rd rushing TD, tying him with George Rogers and Reuben Mayes for fifth on the Saints' career rushing TD list; with a 66-yard rushing night vs. Detroit in the wild card win, became the Saints leading career postseason rusher (209 yards).

And even with all those accolades, we can rest assured that his head is screwed on straight as this PT's a nice guy AND a good player feature story by Mike Triplett from February 2010 informs us:

His mother, his high school coach, his college coaches and people around him today all describe him the same way -- as a hard worker, great player and even better person.

I can't pull up anything from that time in my life without thinking this and getting a ridiculously goofy smile on my face that sticks around for at least an hour: remember the run-up to the Super Bowl that year and the first few days after the Saints won? Yeah, that was awesome.

* * *

So, in the words of Deneice Williams from the awesome movie soundtrack that hit the charts oh, so many years ago, give it up for Pierre Thomas...

Let's hear it for the boy, oh, let's give the boy a hand, yeah yeah yeah. Let's hear it for my baby, you know you gotta understa-a-a-a-a-a-and. Oh, oh, oh maybe he's no Romeo, but he's my loving one man show. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoooooa, let's hear it for the boy!

There's nothing wrong with a grown man using these lyrics to express his platonic admiration for a professional football player's performance for his hometown team, is there?

And also from the A/V squad, here's a video tribute to PT from Super Bowl XLIV (his screen pass TD is about :57 into the 2:30 reel): ahhhhh, how sweet it was...


If you feel so moved, please share your favorite PT moments, or what you appreciate most about him in his time with the Saints (or even more musical high points from the Footloose soundtrack). This is An Appreciation of Pierre Thomas, after all...

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