Ever since Sean Payton came to town, the Saints have had truly impressive depth at receiver. Every heard of Devery Henderson? Robert Meachem? Lance Moore? Kenny Stills?
You probably haven’t unless you play hardcore fantasy football or your favorite team is in the NFC South. They’re receivers that played well for the Saints, but failed to produce elsewhere.
The centerpiece of this offense was Marques Colston, the all-time Saints leader in receptions, touchdowns, and receiving yards. He’s a 6’4″ beast of a receiver, so big that Yahoo mistakenly listed him listed at tight end in 2006. Many fantasy championships were won (and lost) by Colston at TE that year.
Unfortunately, age caught up with Colston, and the team and Colston parted ways this past offseason. Rather than sign with another team, Colston appears to have moved on to the next phase of his life.
The question became, who would replace him? Brandin Cooks has lightning speed and crazy-high football IQ, but lacks the size to fill Colston’s shoes. Jimmy Graham is gone, traded to the Seahawks for Max Unger, and the remaining tight ends simply weren’t as athletic as Colston.
Enter Michael Thomas.
Originally passed over by major schools, Thomas managed to land with Ohio State an work his way into the lineup. In his two years as a starter, Thomas flashed playmaking ability, totaling 110 receptions, 1,580 yards, and 18 touchdowns.
With the 16th pick in the second round, the Saints took Thomas, only the third time they’ve taken a receiver in the first three rounds since taking Colston in the seventh round. Why would they break their tendencies for him?
The real key is his size. He’s a little smaller than Colston was at 6’3″, and entered the league at 212 pounds but has the strength to fill Colston’s role in the offense. Much like Tony Romo finding an open Jason Witten, Drew Brees would target Colston when the pressure got to him, trusting the receiver to outmuscle defensive backs for the ball. Thomas is now receiving those looks in addition to the plays called for any receiver during a game.
Thomas’ performance last week did not surprise anyone who’s been watching. The Seahawks play a tough, physical defense built around jamming receivers at the line, landing big hits, and disrupting opposing pass games enough for the pass rush to hit the quarterback. The best answer is a power run game or a receiver with his own size and physicality, which Thomas displayed in his 10/130 outburst against Kansas City’s strong secondary. He even got some key targets with Richard Sherman covering him, showing the confidence that Brees has in Thomas.
This success should continue, even against the high ranking Broncos defense two weeks from now, because size doesn’t go away. Michael Thomas won’t be getting any shorter or weaker. As long as he stays healthy continues to fight for the ball, he will continue to have big weeks like the last two.
You can count on it.
"Caption This" ???? pic.twitter.com/MU9zKraJsT
— Mike Thomas (@Cantguardmike) November 3, 2016
— Sean Payton (@SeanPayton) November 3, 2016