An Ohio State wide receiver named Michael Thomas was selected in the 2nd round with the 47th overall pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 2016 draft. Thomas was a physical receiver who didn't have the speed or route running ability to be successful at the NFL level, according to several experts. He quickly proved them wrong, catching a team-high 92 passes for 1,137 yards and 9 touchdowns as a rookie in the complex New Orleans offense.
Thomas had become the focal point of the offense by 2017, earning his first Pro Bowl bid with 104 receptions for 1,245 yards and five scores. He was even better in 2018, earning All-Pro honors with a league-high and franchise record 125 catches for 1,405 yards and nine touchdowns.
Rewarded with a lucrative new contract, Thomas took his game to even higher heights in 2019. He led the NFL with 1,725 yards and set a new league record with 149 receptions. Thomas won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year and set new league records for receiving production over his first four seasons.
The Saints entered the 2020 season with an offense that revolved around the elite talents of Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara. They added veteran WR Emmanuel Sanders in free agency to attract some defensive attention away from Thomas, who is nearly unstoppable because of his route precision and physicality.
Today's Year-in-Review spotlight focuses on one of the NFL's most dominant offensive players.
Targeted five times, Thomas caught 3 passes for just 17 yards in a season-opening win over the Buccaneers, but suffered an ankle injury near the end of the game. New Orleans placed their him on injured reserve the following week, hoping that he would return in a month fully recovered. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, it was an injury that would effectively derail a season of promise and high expectations for their star receiver.
After missing three games, Thomas was suspended by the organization for their Week 4 contest against the Chargers because of a fight with teammate Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in practice. After a Week 5 bye, Thomas would miss two more outings because of a hamstring injury suffered in practice.
He’d finally return to the lineup in the Week 9 rematch against the Buccaneers, catching 5 of 6 targets for 51 yards in his team's convincing victory. Still clearly slowed by his ankle, he caught just two of seven targets for 27 yards the following week against the 49ers. In that game, quarterback Drew Brees left with a rib injury that kept him out of the next four contests.
With Taysom Hill behind center in place of Brees, Thomas had his first 100-Yd outing of the season in a Week 11 home win over the Falcons. He provided a crucial security blanket for the inexperienced Hill, catching 9 of 12 targets for 104 yards.
Thomas repeated his standout performance two weeks later in a road rematch at Atlanta, equalling his season best with 9 receptions for a season-high 109 yards. He caught all 8 of his targets for 84 yards the following week in a loss to the Eagles, but re-aggravated his injured ankle. The injury forced the Saints to shelve Thomas for the last three regular season contests.
Thomas was back in the lineup for the team's Wild Card win over Chicago, hauling in 5 receptions for 73 yards and his only touchdown of the season. A shadow of his usual dominant self, Thomas failed to record a catch on four targets in the Saints Divisional Round loss to Tampa Bay. Hampered all year by an ankle that required surgery once the season had concluded, he could not get any separation or make sharp cuts consistently. Amazingly, Brees, Thomas, and Alvin Kamara were on the field together for only 12 quarters in the regular season.
Counting two playoff games, Michael Thomas played in just 12 of 18 games and was hobbled all year. His 45 receptions for 511 yards and 1 touchdown were all career lows. He still caught 72% of his targets and had two of the Saints three 100-Yd receiving games in 2020.
Thomas is signed through 2024 and is still considered one of the NFL's best offensive weapons. He will count $18.8 million against the team's salary cap in 2021, but we should expect the team to restructure his existing deal rather than believe any of the trade rumors that will involve the All-Pro wideout.
With the expected retirement of Drew Brees, the Saints will have a new quarterback under center for the first time since 2005. Thomas will be the ultimate security blanket for whoever the new quarterback is, and we should expect to again see him take his place as the league's best wide receiver.