We’re nearing the end of our focus pieces from Football Outsiders, which have all centered around questions related to the New Orleans Saints. The latest topic involves wide receiver Michael Thomas, who has been living up to his ‘Can’t Guard Mike’ reputation in his first two seasons.
Michael Thomas is in some Top 5 wide receiver conversations, where did he shine most last season and why?
Scott Kacsmar: Thomas has ranked in the top five in our DYAR (total value) stat in each of his first two seasons, so he has gotten off to an excellent start. It helps a lot to have an extremely accurate quarterback in Drew Brees, but Thomas may also be the best wideout he’s ever played with. One thing about Thomas is his consistency. He’s had at least 40 receiving yards in 30 of his first 31 games, which had never been done before in NFL history. He just doesn’t have those weeks where he gets shut down before exploding the following week to make up for it. Thomas is also very efficient -- he’s the only wideout since 2011 to gain a first down on 50 percent of his targets. There are very few wasted plays between Brees and Thomas. If he starts producing double-digit touchdown seasons, then he’ll get mainstream appeal as a top-five wideout.
It’s hard to run out of good things to say when it comes to Michael Thomas. In his second season, Thomas compiled 104 receptions for 1,245 yards and 5 touchdowns on 149 targets. It was his second straight 1,000-yard receiving season. He set the Saints single season record for receptions in 2017, surpassing Jimmy Graham’s old 2011 mark. He also set an NFL record for most receptions through the first two seasons, which was previously held by Jarvis Landry (194) from 2014-2015. Thomas also became the first Saints wide receiver to make the Pro Bowl since Joe Horn (2004).
Thomas finished 6th in the NFL in receiving yardage, just 31 yards shy of Adam Thielen (1,276 yards). Ahead of Thielen and Thomas were DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen, Julio Jones, and Antonio Brown. Thomas did finish third in the NFL in receptions behind Larry Fitzgerald and Jarvis Landry, and also accounted for 70 Saints first downs (third-highest receiving total in league).
Michael Thomas also kicked it into another gear in his first postseason action, tallying 8 receptions for 131 yards on 9 targets against the Panthers in the Wild Card win. He followed that up by having a 7-catch, 85-yard, 2-touchdown outing against a stellar Vikings defense in which he got off to a slow start.
As Kacsmar mentioned, getting into the end zone more in 2018 could pole vault him into Top 5 receiver conversations more, and there’s little to suggest that Thomas can’t get there.
As good as Thomas has been for the Saints, the reality is that when it comes time to lock him on his next deal, that contract will probably give him some ‘stupid money’. If Brandin Cooks can get a 6-year, $88 million deal from the Rams and Stefon Diggs can get a 5-year, $72 million extension from the Vikings, then how much can Michael Thomas get?