Can’t Guard Mike... from going at people on social media?
Much was made about the spat between Michael Thomas and DeVante Parker that occurred last week, where Thomas responded quite contentiously to a comment made on Instagram by the stud receiver out of Miami.
And Thomas seemed to take the brunt of the situation, perception-wise, inciting discourteous comments about his low average depth of target and his absurd target share in the Saints offense.
A lot of folks don’t take kindly to Thomas’ antics on social media, which show up quite often. He’s a loose cannon, to an extent. He’s constantly looking for motivation, or an edge, even if it comes from taking offense to something that might not be quite worthy of taking offense to.
Some have even compared him to Michael Jordan, in this regard.
Only athlete I’ve ever been around who has an edge like Michael Jordan is Mike Thomas.— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) May 18, 2020
And it’s understandable how this could be taken negatively from an outsider’s perspective, as it may seem unnecessary at times. That’s just how MT is wired. But the good news for Saints fans is the antics do not come at the expense of his performance, because, by God, he always backs his talk up.
Now this back-and-forth was entertaining, but we’re here to talk about some of the debates that broke out from it.
Is Thomas a product of his situation? Would Parker put up similar numbers in that situation? Does Thomas really only run slants? This is what you see if you dare venture into the comments section on Twitter.
Some of it is nonsense, but some is worth exploring.
This argument is agitating, because it’s incomplete. If you’re going to go at MT for not stretching the field and only being targeted on short routes, that’s fine. But let’s use the entire sample size here.
Whether it’s short crossers, hitches, slants, quick outs or option routes, Thomas led the league in targets from 1-9 air yards down the field by a wide margin in 2019. This isn’t surprising. His average depth of target of 8.18 yards was one of the lowest in the league, for a receiver.
But what also shouldn’t be surprising is that he leads all 46 receivers with at least 35 targets at this depth in yards per route run, yards after the catch, first downs, touchdowns and catch rate, via Pro Football Focus. He made the absolute most of these targets, more so than any other receiver in the league, including Devante Parker.
This is due to the fact that he creates more separation on these short targets than most other receivers are currently capable of.
Through physicality, nifty footwork and insane agility for a man of his size, MT is nearly impossible to stick with in short, confined spaces. The data bears this out.
Most targets with a step or more of separation since 2017— PFF (@PFF) May 18, 2020
Michael Thomas - 276 pic.twitter.com/5M1fj4Yq8F
On targets of 1-9 air yards, Parker ranked 34th out of 46 in yards per route run and 35th in catch rate, both stats that account for his lower threshold of targets at the aforementioned depth, compared to Thomas.
So, it’s safe to say that Parker’s comment implying he could match Thomas’ production if he were targeted “300 times a game” is bogus, because I don’t know if anyone can at the level of efficiency Thomas did it at.
How they compare on “non-slants”
This is where the argument between Thomas and Parker at least gets interesting. Parker specializes in the intermediate-to-deep levels of the field in the passing game. But how much better at it is he than Mike, if at all?
The answer is naturally cloudy because of the disparity in sample sizes, similar to their numbers in the short passing game. Parker’s average depth targeted in 2019 was a whopping 14.73 yards, compared to Thomas’ 8.18.
Thomas was targeted 20 yards past the line of scrimmage on a mere 4.4 percent of his targets, compared to Parker’s 24.4 percent.
Where Thomas made his money last year wasn’t 20 yards downfield. It was in the intermediate range (10-19 yards past LoS). On these targets, he was incredibly efficient, leading qualifying receivers in yards per route run and explosive plays (15+ yards), in addition to ranking second in receptions and yards behind only Julio Jones.
The formula to achieve this level of production consists of a heavy dose of deep curls, comebacks, outs and crossers. These are routes where he can be targeted right out of his break, because he’s so crisp when snapping off at the top of his route.
Just stylistically, this contrasts with how Parker plays. Athletically, Parker’s got a notch on Thomas, with a longer wingspan, better vertical and faster 40-time. This allows him to be more of a deep-threat, who can beat you with speed or out-jump you in contested catch situations downfield.
He actually out-paced Thomas in contested catch percentage on targets 10 air yards or more downfield, at 54.8 percent last year. Thomas was at 42.1 percent.
The guy can flat-out go up and get the ball on deep posts, go routes and fades. Even against Stephon Gilmore.
When he makes plays like this, it’s incredibly impressive. But they’re fewer and farther between than Mike simply getting open in the intermediate level of the field, which is more stable and consistent of a skill to have.
So, Parker’s one trump card over Thomas is contested catches on deep throws. Not even just contested catches in general, because if you include every throw from any level of the field, Thomas’s percentage is higher.
But when it comes to those deep jump balls, Parker gets the nod, even if it’s a very small sample size of examples.
All in all
Comparing the two players is tough to do. They’re completely different in style of play and skill sets.
Parker sets up curls and dig routes with the threat of his deep speed. In the graphic below, he’s working out of the slot:
While Thomas, on the contrary, may use the threat of his underneath game to get open deep, like on this Slant N Go.
They run a different route tree, and they run their routes completely differently.
Not to mention, they’ve been in entirely different situations their entire careers.
Thomas couldn’t have been placed in a better system coming out of college, while Parker has endured a wheel of mediocrity at the quarterback position for most of his time in the NFL. Although, the one opportunity Thomas had to prove he could succeed with a backup quarterback, he passed with flying colors.
On targets from Teddy Bridgewater alone from Weeks 2-7, Thomas led the league in receiving yards and ranked fifth in catch rate.
The main difference between the two, I would say, is in their route-running. Thomas is so elite at exploding out of his stance and setting up defenders at the top of his routes.
He’s working out of the slot here, displaying quickness off the ball and a sharp and deliberate snap at the top of the route:
While Parker is a bit more nonchalant in his breaks, allowing defenders to undercut them more often. Watch him at the top of the screen here:
This is why, for the time being, Thomas is just on another level than Parker. His strength, footwork, nimbleness and smarts allow him to carry a workload that Parker isn’t quite capable of at the moment.
This is not a knock on Parker, as he’s a good, ascending player who I think is probably underrated.
But he can sometimes be guarded. Mike, on the other hand, well, you can’t guard him.
Is there any way DeVante Parker is better than Michael Thomas? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @andy_b_123.