Ballin’ out in the Big Easy – The Rise and Rise of Michael Thomas

The New Orleans Saints are the hottest team in football right now, and their offense is firing on all cylinders. A big reason for their offensive success is the breakout of third-year wideout Michael Thomas. He’s been so good he has leapfrogged both De’Andre Hopkins and Odell Beckham Jr. as my WR1 in dynasty.

This opinion is far from consensus, but things change quickly in fantasy football…

It doesn’t seem so long ago that it was Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans who were battling for the number one overall dynasty startup pick. Mike Evans is a superb NFL wide receiver, but a dip in his production and a QB situation that is bordering on comical has seen his dynasty stock drop. I doubt that we see him back inside the top 5 overall ADP again. When one ADP goes up, another must come down, and Michael Thomas’ has done just that. He is currently being drafted as the WR3 and the 7th player off the board overall (per Addison Hayes’ ADP site).

I’m here to tell you that isn’t high enough. MT is a phenomenal talent who is only beginning to give us a glimpse of the heights he can reach as a fantasy asset.

His ADP has been slowly rising over the past year, and if you want to acquire MT in a league, you will need to pay handsomely. The good news is, his ADP has not yet caught up to where I believe his value to be, but by the end of 2018, I think he might be there.

There are two reasons for this: 1) his production both past and current, and 2) his QB situation.

First up, let’s take a look at his career production to date:

2018 Production

In Week 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals, MT played in his 40th NFL game and broke the NFL record for the most catches through 40 career games, surpassing OBJ with his 267th grab. He’s much more than just a reception machine, however. His career yards per reception (“YPR”) is 12.3. This is markedly better than NFL target hog Jarvis Landry (who holds reception records of his own), whose career YPR is 10.1.

In the same game, Thomas showcased all of his skills with this touchdown. Just another day at the office for MT:

MT’s start to the 2018 NFL season has been nothing short of exceptional. Through 11 weeks (including his bye week), Thomas had six top-12 finishes at the position (including two WR1 finishes) and amassed 230.2 PPR points, approximately 40 points fewer than his previous career finishes. He still has 7 games left to play. He’s currently the WR3 on the season behind Tyreek Hill (who has played one more game), and he is 0.1 PPR points behind Adam Thielen (WR2).

His stat line through 10 games reads 82/1,042/8 on 91 targets with a catch rate of 90.1%. In case you don’t like math, I’ve done it for you. His 16 game pace would be approximately 119 catches, 1,515 yards and 13 touchdowns on 132 targets. That’s 348.5 fantasy points in PPR scoring.

Only ten other WRs have ever scored more than 348 PPR points in a single season, and they make for rarefied company. Four of them are Hall of Famers, with Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and Calvin Johnson all near certainties to join them.

The good news for MT and his owners in fantasy football is that he has a fantastic strength of schedule (“SOS”) for the remainder of the 2018 fantasy football season (through Week 16 of the NFL). Using Warren Sharp’s tool, we can see that the Saints have the second easiest SOS against opposing pass defenses:

With such a favorable schedule ahead of him, MT has every opportunity to maintain his current production pace which would see him finish with one of the best fantasy seasons for a WR of all time. By season end it could be impossible to buy Thomas. It’s going to be hard to get a deal done now, but in the right circumstances, you might just be able to pull it off.

Past Production

2018 is MT’s third season in the NFL. He has ascended to the next level in terms of his production, but he’s no flash in the pan. His first two seasons in the league were impressive too, finishing as the WR7 in 2016 with 255.7 PPR points, and the WR6 in 2017 with 258.5 PPR points.

Only three players in NFL history have amassed at least 250 receptions, 3,000 yards, and 20 touchdowns through their first three seasons: OBJ, A.J. Green and Michael Thomas.   

His rookie season was pretty special too – WR guru Matt Harmon graded MT’s rookie season as the second best he’s ever charted:

Quarterback Situation

Now, the natural question to ask about MT as a dynasty asset is, “What about Drew Brees?” There’s no doubt MT has benefitted from playing with the future Hall of Famer, and in 2018 Drew is playing at an MVP level. Fortunately for MT, he’s showing no signs of slowing down and is under contract through 2019 where he has a dead cap hit of $21 million (per Spotrac). So we know there is at least one more year of Brees throwing to Thomas in New Orleans.

By then he will be 40 years old, but Brees is injury free (touch wood), benefits from at least 9 games per season in a dome, and relies on his brain and accuracy rather than a howitzer of an arm. Tom Brady has raised the bar of QB play past the age of 40, and there is no evidence to suggest Brees can’t follow suit. There’s also no reason to believe Brees wouldn’t sign a one-year extension in 2020 to help develop the heir to the Saints throne (Jake Fromm learning from Brees would surely be a dream for Saints fans). The Saints do not have a 2019 first round draft selection; they traded their 2019 pick to draft pass rusher Marcus Davenport. This makes it all the more likely Brees returns in 2020 to allow any prospective rookie QB time to learn the ropes of professional football. With a slew of QB needy teams (the Giants, Raiders, Jaguars, Dolphins, and even Buccaneers come to mind), it is unlikely that the future of the franchise falls to the Saints in the second round of the 2019 NFL draft.

Even if Brees does hang it up, MT is talented enough to produce without Brees under center. Unfortunately, we don’t have any data to support this conclusion (since Brees hasn’t missed a game), but my reasoning is simple. Elite WRs produce regardless of their QB – look at De’Andre Hopkins, OBJ, and Antonio Brown when Big Ben is hurt. These star WRs either had or currently have (yes, I’m looking at you Eli) poor QB situations. The Saints are a well-run organization, and I don’t foresee a QB debacle that other franchises have experienced in recent years.

I don’t believe MT relies on Brees completely, however, and there is every reason to believe that Brees has continued to excel into his later years due to the talents of MT.

Of all the WRs Brees has targeted at least 150 times in the Big Easy, MT is the 2nd most efficient in terms of adjusted yards per attempt. He is second only to Robert Meachum who never saw more than 66 targets in a season and was often utilized as a vertical threat (in a similar role, Ted Ginn has an AYA of 10.84 on 92 targets).

When analyzing such elite NFL and dynasty assets, we are really splitting hairs when choosing between one player and another. MT is my dynasty WR1 based off what I have seen this season, but I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone who has Hopkins or Beckham atop their list. If you simply give consideration to the idea that MT should be in the conversation, then I have done my job.

As always, credit to @_amazehayes for his website, which has been used extensively for this article, along with Pro Football Reference. Find me on Twitter @FF_DownUnder, where you can let me know who your dynasty WR1 is!


English Australia-based writer for @DFF_Dynasty & ADP Specialist for @DFF_ADP. #DFFArmy #DynastyFootball #ADP Find me on Twitter @FF_DownUnder Patriots and Seminoles fan. Lover of beer, scotch, and red wine.

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