With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at a the NFL’s all-time leader receptions through their first two career seasons.
Drew Brees Hasn’t Always Fed His No. 1 Wideout — Until Michael Thomas
The Saints and head coach Sean Payton have notoriously made life difficult on the team’s fantasy investors. While Drew Brees certainly has the traits of a fantasy-friendly quarterback, the offense has tended to spread the ball around, bringing to life a seemingly endless supply of receiver and running back committees during his 12 seasons in New Orleans. This philosophy hasn’t always produced the most consistent receiving options:
- From 2006 to 2016, only Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston produced more than two seasons with 100 or more targets for the Saints.
- From 2006 to 2014, Robert Meachem was the only wide receiver the Saints selected before the fourth round of the NFL Draft.
- Since 2016, the Saints haven’t ranked higher than 25th in salary cap allocation to wide receivers.
Somewhere in the midst of the Saints’ refusal to ever seriously allot resources at wide receiver, the team stumbled upon one of the finest young talents the league has ever seen: Michael Thomas. He already joins Graham and Colston as Brees’ only receivers with multiple seasons with 120-plus targets, and Jordy Nelson and Kyle Rudolph are the only players in the entire league that have been fed more targets inside the 10-yard line than Thomas over that span.
Thomas’ 149 targets overall in 2017 tied Graham for the highest single-season mark in the Brees-Payton era, and Thomas has been targeted at least five times in each of his 33 career games.
Thomas Has Absolutely Owned His Division
Thomas has made life hard against the likes of stud cornerbacks like Patrick Peterson (7-52-1) and Xavier Rhodes (5-45-0, 7-85-2) during his career, but he’s saved a special level of domination for the Saints’ divisional rivals:
- Vs. Panthers: 36 targets, 30-434-3 (five games)
- Vs. Buccaneers: 27 targets, 20-257-0 (three games)
- Vs. Falcons: 44 targets, 31-410-3 (four games)
Unsurprisingly, Thomas’ combined 81-1,101-6 line against the NFC South has lead to plenty of fantasy (and daily fantasy) success, as he’s averaged 19.7 DraftKings points per game with a +5.45 Plus/Minus and 66.7% Consistency in 12 career divisional games (per our NFL trends tool).
The rest of the division just hasn’t seen anything like Thomas. Former high-volume Saints receivers Willie Snead, Marques Colston, and Brandin Cooks all posted negative road splits as featured receivers on the Saints, but per the Trends tool, Thomas has bucked this trend through two seasons by averaging an additional 3.8 DraftKings points per game away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome compared to his home mark. (Be sure to monitor our Ownership Dashboard throughout the season to see if the public continues to fade Thomas on the road, and monitor our Contests Dashboard to analyze how some of the industry’s sharpest DFS players view the situation.)
The Thomas-Brees Connection Is Special
Thomas has somehow managed to help take the most accurate quarterback in league history to another level:
You can't guard Mike.
Highest catch rate between a QB and WR over the past 25 years (min. 150 targets):
1. Michael Thomas –> Drew Brees – 72.6%
2. Tyreek Hill –> Alex Smith – 72.3%
3. Wes Welker –> Brady/Manning – 70.8% pic.twitter.com/denL9wwDlc
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 12, 2018
The Brees-Thomas connection has a chance to reach a new high in their third season together, especially when considering that Thomas has posted superior splits without Snead (signed with Ravens) or Coby Fleener (released) on the field during his career.
Even without an additional production boost, Thomas’ consistency is already unmatched: He lead the league with 13 games of at least five receptions and 50 receiving yards in 2017; no other receiver had more than 11 such games.
Only Colston and Graham have averaged more yards per route run in a single season for the Saints than Thomas’ 2.39 mark in 2017 (Pro Football Focus), and even if Thomas is a few seasons away from equaling their career achievements, he’s already established himself as one of the Saints’ — and the league’s — best-ever young receivers.
Considering Thomas is entering only his third pro season, the best is likely yet to come.
Pictured above: Michael Thomas
Photo credit: Kim Klement – USA TODAY Sports