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GETTING BETTER WITH AGE: Saints Wide Receiver Michael Thomas Has Bigger Things in Store for His 3rd NFL Season

For 3rd year New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, the accolades and achievements that he has managed to accomplish in only his first 2 NFL seasons in the Black and Gold, reads like a list of feats normally reserved for players that are considered to be among the sport's truly elite performers. Which is why the recent selection of Thomas as 'only' the 81st best player out of the League's Top 100 Players by the NFL Network a few weeks ago, seems like a grave injustice.

Consider the following:

Highest catch rate between a QB and WR over the past 25 years (min. 150 targets): Drew Brees & Michael Thomas

Since 1992, among wide receivers with 200+ targets in their first two years of their careers, Michael Thomas has the highest catch percentage.

Michael Thomas saw 27.8% of the Saints' targets last year. No Saints WR had topped 22.4% in 12 years under Sean Payton and Drew Brees (only 3 have ever gone over 20%).

Among all Saints players age 25 or less, Thomas was the highest rated player by Pro Football Focus (Michael Thomas: 93.0 Marshon Lattimore: 90.5 Alvin Kamara: 90.2 Marcus Williams: 86.8 Ryan Ramczyk: 84.2)

Photo courtesy of Jamie Germano, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Now we could add a whole bunch more of these type of statistics, but surely you "get the point".

In his first 2 seasons, Michael Thomas has been everything that the Saints could ever dream him of being, and a whole lot more.

As a matter of fact, some believe that Thomas could go on to become the greatest wide receiver in the entire 52-year history of the Saints franchise.

That's quite a remarkable assessment only 3 years into his professional career, to say the least.

And the scary part?

The Los Angeles, California native — who just recently celebrated his 25th birthday a few weeks ago — just keeps getting better with age.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

A 2nd round pick out of Ohio State by the Saints in the 2016 NFL Draft, Thomas wasted little time putting his name in both the team’s and the NFL’s record books, setting the record for most catches by a player through his first two seasons in football history (196), and the franchise marks after catching 92 passes from Drew Brees for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie.

Additionally, his 106 receptions last season broke the previous Saints single-season record established by (now-Green Bay Packers tight end) Jimmy Graham back during the record-breaking 2011 season (99 receptions).

And as a result?

Thomas amazingly (and finally) became the first WR ever in Drew Brees' tenure as the Saints starting QB, to be voted to the Pro Bowl.

And now as Thomas approaches Year #3 of his rapidly-progressing move up the ladder of the sport's top stars at the WR position, head coach Sean Payton told ESPN team reporter Mike Triplett a few months back right after Thomas' selection to the Pro Bowl was announced, that Thomas' growth continues at a rapid pace.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

“Just formationally, where he goes, I would say has expanded. And then I would say the volume, with regards to what he does when he goes there,” Payton said.

“In his first year, we tried to get him set at one position and move him around some, but he’s someone that I think has gotten better in that area, and we have to keep finding ways to target him. He’s been real productive not only with the catch and the catch point, but after the catch.”

Triplett noted in that article that Thomas clearly established himself last season as the top target in New Orleans’ passing game — which is why defenses were so intent on swarming him in the red zone.

Thomas’ 149 targets were nearly 50 more than anyone else on the Saints team (Alvin Kamara had 100) and more than double any other wide receiver (Ted Ginn Jr. had 70).

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The disparity was just as big on 3rd downs (Thomas had 39 targets, Kamara 19, Ginn 18).

Saints QB Drew Brees told Triplett that Thomas’ repertoire grew considerably last year, along with his maturity.

“I think (he’s) more polished in a lot of ways,” Brees said. “He came in really raw, and there are certain innate traits that he has that you just don’t find. He is extremely competitive. His work ethic is second to none. His focus and intensity during practice — I mean, every rep is like a game rep to him and that’s really rare."

“Listen, when it comes to playing the wide-receiver position, especially as you learn the offense and begin to understand the nuances and some of the adjustments that you have to be able to do on the fly, those are all things that just take time."

"So (he went) from last year, when he was just really raw, to now being a guy who understands the bigger picture, understands what’s happening around him, understands ways to get open, understands slight variations to routes based upon a look or leverage or coverage or whatever it might be.”

There's no understating just how much progress that Thomas has made from the beginning of his rookie season at this same time two years ago, up til now. 

Photo courtesy of Wesley Hitt, Getty Images

And now with the recent influx of talent at the position (veteran free agent Cam Meredith, and this year's 3rd Round pick Tre'Quan Smith), Thomas won't have to "shoulder the load" either.

If nothing else, the additions of Meredith and Smith should only serve to help further along Thomas' progression; since he figures to see markedly less double-coverage from opposing defenses that he saw so many times, last year.

Should that be the case, it could mean that bigger things are in store in the upcoming 2018 season for Thomas — who now in the 3rd season of his blossoming NFL career — just keeps "getting better with age"........

Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist and Lead Analyst Barry Hirstius is a 50-year old semi-retired journalist and former New Orleans area sports editor and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints NFL football team. Additionally, he is a frequent guest on a variety of Sports Talk Radio programs that cover the Saints. Barry is also a New Orleans native that dating all the way back to his childhood in the early 1970's, attended games at the old Tulane Stadium and grew up as a long-time Saints fan; following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.......

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