After New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas hauled in a franchise record 16 passes in a losing effort against the Buccaneers last week, the response was not quite as apathetic as a shrug, but it was close to that.
“When the ball is in the air with Drew, I trust him — he doesn’t make bad decisions,” Thomas said. “If he is throwing it my way I’m going to try to find a way to come down with it.”
The point is that after catching nearly 196 passes for 2,382 yards in his first two seasons, monster performances like the one Thomas turned in against Tampa Bay last week are almost to be expected.
Still, games like that combined with the overall body of work begs the question: How did a talent like Thomas fall to the middle of the second round of the 2016 draft?
“I think people talked about speed,” said Browns coach Hue Jackson on a teleconference this week (Thomas ran a 4.57-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, ranking 28th among receivers). “I know when he came out, people said maybe he was not that fast. I think he’s proven that not to be the case.
“He’s good enough to play on anybody’s offense, any play across the receiver position. I think sometimes people put too much emphasis on certain things and not enough emphasis on the kind of guy playing, and he really can play.”
Saints coach Sean Payton said he did not want to speak for other teams on the ways in which they evaluate talent, but he remembered how the Saints evaluated Thomas, complete with a grade that put him toward the back half of the first round.
“We saw strong hands in traffic, we saw really good run after the catch, we saw a physical, competitive player,” Payton said. “Those were the traits that we saw, and those are what we valued and drafted on.
“I’m probably pretty certain that a number of teams saw the same things and maybe three picks later there might have been a team that was getting ready to take him. If you knew exactly (what you know) now back then, he’d have been drafted earlier. That’s one of the challenges of the draft.”
Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael remembers that Thomas was a guy Payton had zeroed in on specifically back in the 2016 draft.
The Saints, Carmichael said, did their homework on Thomas. Though he did not go into whether Thomas’ combine speed was an issue — “sometimes people put too much emphasis on certain things,” was all Carmichael would say — he pointed out that Thomas’ intangibles were a huge plus.
“Those (draft) meetings are so detailed,” Carmichael said. “(Assistant general manager/college scouting director) Jeff Ireland does a great job with his group in the scouting department, and one thing Sean pays so much attention to is not just the football player, but the intelligence, the makeup — everything that would be a great fit for this locker room.”
All the intangibles that made Thomas such an impressive prospect to the Saints have played out on professional football fields, and if his testing speed scared other teams away, it has not been a problem at this level.
The Saints have one of the best young receivers in the NFL, and even better, he is still motivated by the fact they got him so late.
“Yeah, definitely it does,” Thomas said. “It has to, it always has.”
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