Throughout the entire 100-year history of the NFL, not one player that's ever played the wide receiver position has won the League's MVP award. While legendary names such as Jerry Rice and Randy Moss achieved great success in their careers, they never earned the honor given annually to the top performer in the sport of Pro Football.
However, 4th-year New Orleans Saints superstar Michael Thomas is the first player in recent years at the WR position to make a very strong case for winning that award; and through the team's first 8 games of the season, he's already emerged as a clear-cut candidate and deservedly so.
In the Black and Gold's first 8 games, the former Ohio State University star leads the league in both catches (73) and receiving yards (875). These numbers put Thomas on a torrid pace to set NFL receiving records. It is projected over the remaining eight games of this 2019 NFL regular season, he would achieve a whopping 146 catches for 1,750 yards.
That would break the League record for the most pass receptions in a single season (set by former Indianapolis Colts WR Marvin Harrison back in 2002), and would be the 5th best season ever in receiving yardage.
His stats might be strong enough to persuade the MVP voters that ultimately to decide in his favor. The votes will be officially be cast at the end of the NFL's final weekend in December. For those Saints fans that might not be aware, the award itself is handed out by the Associated Press; the biggest and most respected media organization that has presented the award since 1957.
The eventual League MVP is determined by a panel of 50 writers who convene and cast their respective votes after the end of the regular season, but right before the start of the NFL Playoffs. The final tally of the votes are not officially revealed to the general public until the night prior to the Super Bowl at the annual "NFL Honors" ceremony.
Unfortunately, for both the Saints and Thomas, history won't be on their side.
Dating all the way back to the end of the 1980 season nearly 40 years ago, only three WR's have ever even received a single vote for the award: Jerry Rice with the San Francisco 49ers, Sterling Sharpe with the Green Bay Packers, and Randy Moss with the Minnesota Vikings.
Rice is the only WR to finish 2nd overall in the voting, which he did twice following the 1987 and 1995 seasons. Randy Moss was close as a wide receiver finishing 3rd in the 1998 MVP voting following his phenomenal rookie season with Minnesota.
Those facts aside, Thomas has more than done his part in the Saints' first eight games this season to earn any such similar accolades.
In addition to leading the league currently both in catches and receiving yardage, Thomas also leads the NFL in total targets (89), and is only one of seven NFL WR's this season to exceed 70 targets. When you factor in that he's caught 73 out of those same 89 targets, it means the young man nicknamed "Can't Guard Mike" has caught a phenomenal 82% of the footballs that have come his way.
Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he's made double-digit catches in four games. Thomas tallied 10 catches each against the Houston Texans (Week 1) and the Los Angeles Rams (Week 2) and has made 11 catches twice against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 5) and then once more in the Saints' most recent win this past Sunday at home against the Arizona Cardinals.
Those are the type of numbers that most NFL WR's aren't able to record in a single season and in some instances even during an entire career, much less the first half of the regular season. That performance so far coupled with the week-in and week-out consistency that he's played with since this season first began, should at the very least put the Saints' designated top pass-catcher into the MVP conversation.
After New Orleans' dominant 31-9 win over Arizona in which he caught all 11 of Drew Brees' throws that came his way for 112 yards; Thomas told Pro Football Talk writer Mike Florio that he hopes his performance has shown the Saints organization that he is worth every single penny of the $100 million dollar contract extension he was given during Training Camp.
"I'm trying to lead by example", Thomas told Florio. "I want to keep my head down and work, and I want to be that example for the young guys coming up". Thomas also told Florio that he doesn't take being able to playing alongside a living legend like Brees lightly.
"I don't take for granted being in the huddle with a Hall of Fame quarterback", Thomas said.
He also somewhat jokingly told Florio that he fully expected the Black and Gold would win all five games that Brees missed, while he was out of the starting line-up with a torn thumb ligament. "Do I play for the Saints?" he told Florio with a laugh. "I would have said we will win all of them".
Win every game while Brees was out was what the Saints were exactly able to accomplish. As a result, New Orleans now finds itself with a (7-1) win-loss record, a two-and-a-half game lead over the Carolina Panthers in the NFC South Division, and the number 2 overall seed in the NFC behind undefeated (7-0) San Francisco.
While the Saints undoubtedly owe those wins to the outstanding coaching effort of head coach Sean Payton and his staff, the stellar play of the team's much-improved defense, and the steady guidance of the team's offense by back-up QB Teddy Bridgewater; it's been the fantastic individual effort produced so far by Thomas, that's been just as responsible for the team's success than anything else.
The only thing that Thomas and New Orleans are focused on now moving forward, is trying to reach their ultimate goal: a trip to Miami, Florida and a spot in Super Bowl LIV (54). If Thomas can continue the top-notch effort that he's given the Saints up to this point, such an occurrence certainly isn't out of the question.
Throughout the NFL's 100-year history, only the greatest of pass-catching legends were ever considered for the prestigious honor of being named League MVP; and through the first half of the current season, Saints WR Michael Thomas has proven himself more than worthy of being a candidate.