Running back Pierre Thomas culminated a wonderful career as a member of the New Orleans Saints with the announcement on Thursday that he will be inducted into the franchise's Hall of Fame. Thomas joins wide receiver Lance Moore and Michael C. Hebert in the Class of 2018 inductees into the Saints Hall of Fame, which was founded in 1987. He is just the 5th New Orleans running back to be inducted.
Pierre Thomas came into the NFL as an undrafted free agent rookie out of the University of Illinois in 2007. Despite leaving the Fighting Illini with the 2nd highest all-time mark in all purpose yardage, Thomas wasn't even invited to the NFL scouting combine. He made such an impression on 2nd year Saints coach Sean Payton however, that Thomas was kept on the roster over the team's 4th round draft pick that year, Antonio Pittman. He had limited offensive action during his first season with the team, finishing with 403 total yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. He was the team leader in kickoff return yardage, and averaged nearly 25 yards per return.
Thomas would establish himself as an important weapon in Payton's explosive offense during the 2008 season. He led the Saints in rushing during the '08 and '09 seasons, while scoring a combined 20 touchdowns. Thomas was one of the most effective all-purpose running backs in the league during his 8-yr. career in New Orleans. He was nearly unstoppable on screen passes, and it became a staple in the Saints offensive arsenal. Thomas led all NFL running backs in receiving during the 2013 season, when he caught a career high 77 passes for 513 yards, and still led the Saints in rushing with 549 yards. Thomas' 2,608 career receiving yards and 327 total receptions are both the best in franchise history for a running back, and he ranks 6th among all receivers in catches. His 3,745 rushing yards is 5th best in franchise history, and his 28 rushing touchdowns is the fourth highest mark.
Pierre Thomas was beloved by the Saints faithful for so much more than statistics. He wasn't the biggest back (listed at 5'11, 210-lbs.), and didn't possess breathtaking speed. Thomas was the type of player who was willing to do whatever he needed to on the field to help his team win. He was a trusted target of quarterback Drew Brees in clutch situations, and was a skilled special team player as well, often able to give the team a boost as a kick returner when needed. What set Thomas apart was his leadership, and his ability to make the clutch play in big games. He scored the first New Orleans touchdown in the Saints Super Bowl XLIV over Indianapolis, taking a screen pass and bolting 16-yds. for the go-ahead score early in the 3rd quarter of the Saints historic 31-17 victory. What sometimes gets forgotten is that Thomas was vital in just getting his team to the game's biggest stage. During the Saints NFC Championship victory over the Minnesota Vikings, Thomas was the Saints leading rusher and second leading receiver on the afternoon, and scored 2 of the 3 New Orleans touchdowns. When regular returner Courtney Roby was injured late in the contest, Thomas stepped in and returned the opening kickoff of overtime 40 yards to give New Orleans key field position. Later in that same drive, Thomas was given the call on a 4th and 1 gamble by Payton. He fought furiously on a 2-yd. first down conversion that would put the Saints in position for the game winning field goal from Garrett Hartley and send New Orleans to the Super Bowl. That game was a microcosm of a Hall of Fame career, and an honor so very well deserved.
Congratulations Pierre Thomas!