Biggest Saints questions of 2020: How will Michael Thomas perform as an encore?
Michael Thomas set the NFL on fire with his 2019 campaign, earning the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year. Not to be forgotten, Thomas earned his third straight Pro Bowl selection, second consecutive First-Team All-Pro honors, and led the league in receptions again on top of another Pro Bowl nod in the process. The record-setting performance saw Thomas finish with 149 receptions for 1,725 yards on 185 targets (11.6 average), with 9 touchdowns and 91 total first downs. The New Orleans Saints rewarded Thomas' strong first three seasons of production prior to last season starting, and it has paid off tremendously.
After obtaining such a feat, it begs the question: How will Michael Thomas follow up last season as an encore?
Thomas is finally getting more respect around the league and media, even coming in ranked as the top wide receiver for this season by CBS Sports recently. It's something that's been a long time coming, as we vividly remember the days of him being left out of a Top 5 debate. While some still try to knock him as 'just a slant guy', few have had success defending against him over his first four seasons. Thomas isn't sitting around waiting for things to happen this season - that's just not his character. Rather, as we saw on his personal Instagram account on Monday, he's appeared to have bulked up even more. That's right, a very physical and dominating receiver is only working on getting better.
There's been a ton of great wide receivers in the NFL over the years, so it got me curious on how to put Thomas' seasons in perspective. Furthermore, I wanted to see how they performed in their fifth professional seasons for some comparison. Here's what we see.
Notable wide receiver stats in their first four seasons
Michael Thomas: 63 games, 470 receptions (602 targets), 5,512 yards, 11.6 average, 32 touchdowns, 306 first downs
Jerry Rice: 60 games, 264 receptions, 4,881 yards, 18.5 average, 49 touchdowns
Randy Moss: 64 games, 308 receptions (544 targets), 5,396 yards, 17.5 average, 53 touchdowns, 220 first downs
Julio Jones: 48 games, 278 receptions (445 targets), 4,330 yards, 15.6 average, 26 touchdowns, 193 first downs
Larry Fitzgerald: 60 games, 330 receptions (558 targets), 4,544 yards, 13.8 average, 34 touchdowns, 227 first downs
Terrell Owens: 62 games, 222 receptions (363 targets), 3,307 yards, 14.9 average, 30 touchdowns, 160 first downs
Anquan Boldin: 56 games, 342 receptions (592 targets), 4,605 yards, 13.46 average, 20 touchdowns, 220 first downs
Odell Beckham: 47 games, 313 receptions (498 targets), 4,424 yards, 14.1 average, 38 touchdowns, 206 first downs
Here's how each of those receivers performed in their fifth season.
- Rice (1989): 16 games, 82 receptions, 1,483 yards, 18.1 average, 17 TDs
- Moss (2002): 16 games, 106 receptions (185 targets), 1,347 yards, 12.7 average, 15 TDs, 67 first downs
- Jones (2015): 16 games, 136 receptions (203 targets), 1,871 yards, 13.8 average, 8 TDs, 93 first downs
- Fitzgerald (2008): 16 games, 96 receptions (154 targets), 1,431 yards, 14.9 average, 12 TDs, 66 first downs
- Owens (2000): 14 games, 97 receptions (146 targets), 1,451 yards, 15.0 average, 13 TDs, 65 first downs
- Boldin (2007): 12 games, 71 receptions (99 targets), 853 yards, 12.0 average, 9 TDs, 43 first downs
- Beckham (2018): 12 games, 77 receptions (124 targets), 1,052 yards, 13.7 average, 6 TDs, 50 first downs
What about Marvin Harrison? How did he follow up his record-setting season from 2002?
- 2002: 16 games, 143 receptions (205 targets), 1,722 yards, 12.0 average, 11 TDs, 92 first downs
- 2003: 15 games, 94 receptions (142 targets), 1,272 yards, 13.5 average, 10 TDs, 60 first downs
In 2003, Harrison still had a killer season, but he played in one less games and saw 63 fewer targets overall. He had 450 yards fewer receiving yards, but a better average. His campaign finished having one less touchdown, but the big thing was 32 fewer first downs. It's worth noting that Peyton Manning was still the quarterback, and the drop-off could be attributed to the then growing threat of Reggie Wayne.
As we discussed previously, Emmanuel Sanders and Jared Cook could dip into that production for 2020. Thomas should have another killer season for the Saints, and he's not the type that will settle for anything less. Since entering the league, Thomas has had a chip on his shoulder. Five wide receivers went before the Ohio State product: Corey Coleman, Will Fuller, Josh Doctson, Laquon Treadwell, and Sterling Shepard. None of them have had the impact that Thomas has in the league, and if you totaled all of their production up against Thomas, you might be surprised at what you find.
- Michael Thomas: 470 receptions, 5,512 yards, 32 touchdowns
- All 5 Drafted Before Thomas: 610 receptions, 7,683 yards, 48 touchdowns
Fuller and Shepard have just about equaled what Thomas has done, combining for 403 receptions, 5,093 yards, and 32 touchdowns. The others? Well, they have severely underperformed. The draft snub will be the fuel that keeps Thomas going for years to come, and it should end up being another successful year for him when it's all said and done.