If you follow pro football at all, and especially if you're competing in a fantasy football league, then you know who Michael Thomas is and the impact he's had on his team (and your fantasy team), the New Orleans Saints. You also probably know the stats and highlight-reel plays he's been compiling since he came into the NFL out of Ohio State. We'll look at where Michael Thomas came from and trace what has fueled his passion to become one of the top wide receivers in the game today.
Who Is Michael Thomas?
Michael Thomas is a wide receiver with the New Orleans Saints. He attended Ohio State University. Prior to that, Thomas attended Taft High School in Woodland Hills, California, where he set a state record as a senior by grabbing 86 passes, racking up 1,656 yards while scoring 21 touchdowns for the Toreadors football squad.
Michael Thomas was a four-star recruit as ranked by Rivals.com but didn't gain much attention from college football programs around the country. Eventually, he committed to play for perennial powerhouse Ohio State, but had to spend a year at Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, Virginia to prep for college and fine-tune his football skills. Coincidentally, his roommate at Fork Union was Cardale Jones, who wound up being his quarterback at Ohio State.
The Buckeye Years
After a year at Fork Union, Michael Thomas enrolled at Ohio State University where he had accepted a full ride scholarship to play football for the vaunted Buckeyes. As a true freshman, Thomas played in 11 games during the 2012 season. His stats weren't anything to write home about: three catches for a total of 22 yards. It wasn't what the Buckeyes were expecting, and certainly not what Michael Thomas expected of himself.
As a result of this slow start, the Buckeyes decided to red-shirt Thomas for his sophomore campaign. The feeling was that a year of not playing would allow him to further adjust to college life, concentrate on his grades, and build strength in the weight room. It's common practice in college football, and players can use it to further motivate themselves to get back on the field.
From Backup to Emerging Star
Fresh from a year away from the game, Michael Thomas entered his red-shirt sophomore season in 2014 with high hopes. But he soon learned he would be on the field only as backup. After being a star in high school and receiving a scholarship to Ohio State, it was a humbling experience to know that, at least in the eyes of the coaching staff, he wasn't considered a starter.
Motivated to prove the doubters wrong, Michael Thomas quickly set about laying his claim to a starting role. He ended his sophomore campaign, not on the bench, but leading the Buckeyes in receptions with 54 for 799 yards and nine touchdowns. He had his biggest game that season on the biggest stage, grabbing seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown in the Buckeyes' semi-final playoff victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
A week later, he made four receptions for 53 yards as Ohio State beat the Oregon Ducks to win the 2015 College Football National Championship. Michael Thomas had definitely arrived, and he followed up his playoff performance with another stellar season in 2015 by making 56 receptions for 781 yards and nine touchdowns.
Thomas had felt that he'd accomplished what he'd set out to do at Ohio State in winning a national championship and putting himself in the conversation for the top wide receivers in college football. In January 2016, Michael Thomas announced that he would make himself available for the 2016 NFL Draft. Michael Thomas had to prove the doubters wrong in high school, where he had a tough time getting on the field and again at Ohio State. He was ready to do so again to step up to the big league.
A Kid with a Chip on His Shoulder
"I feel like I've been having to earn it my whole life, that's just how my story's been. I found a way." This is how Michael Thomas put his career and his life in perspective during a recent interview with ESPN. Find a way. The words were ingrained in his psyche as he pushed himself to be the best and to make sure everyone that mattered knew he was the best too.
Michael Thomas is the 6'3, 212-pound embodiment of the kid with the chip on his shoulder. In fact, if he isn't being overlooked, Thomas feels that he isn't being seen at all. If he feels disrespected, it fuels him to go above and beyond. That's what drove him to get on the field and stay on the field at Taft High School and to go from the bench to stardom at Ohio State.
Things wouldn't be any different in the NFL. Thomas would have to wait until the second round until the New Orleans Saints chose him with the 47th pick overall. Teams chose six wide receivers before Michael Thomas heard the Saints call his name. This was more fuel for the fire, as Thomas now set out to show the six teams that chose wide receivers ahead of him how much they would come to regret that decision.
Life In the League
Michael Thomas found a way. He worked hard in training camp with the Saints and won a starting spot on the roster. With future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees at the controls, and speedy Brandin Cooks stretching the field at the other wide receiver position, they put Thomas in a position to excel. Thomas finished his first NFL game with six catches for 58 yards, and on September 26, 2016, he caught his first touchdown as a pro against the Atlanta Falcons.
He finished that contest with seven catches for 71 yards and one touchdown in a losing effort. But Michael Thomas was just getting started. He would finish the season by setting franchise records for a rookie receiver for receptions, yards, and touchdowns.
Michael Thomas: Pro Bowl Receiver
In only his second season Thomas was selected to his first Pro Bowl based on his outstanding production. He finished the year with 104 catches for 1,245 yards and five touchdowns. His 104 receptions placed him third in the league in that category, and his 196 receptions in his first two seasons in the NFL were the most in league history.
Thomas also helped his Saints beat Carolina in a playoff game, tallying eight catches for 131 yards in the 31-26 victory. Michael Thomas blew up in the divisional round the following week against the Minnesota Vikings by going off for seven catches and two touchdowns. However, the individual stats were meaningless to Thomas, as the Saints fell to the Vikings 29-24.
Besides earning Pro Bowl honors that season, he was also ranked 81st among the NFL Top 100 Players of 2018. This was quite an accomplishment for a second-year player. Fun fact: Keyshawn Johnson, the talented and demanding wide receiver, is Thomas' uncle. Maybe that's where Thomas gets some of his fiery competitive tendencies.
2018: A Record Breaking Season So Far
Picking up right where he left off, Thomas exploded out of the gate in the season opener against Tampa Bay. He hauled in a franchise-record 16 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown while also breaking the 100-yard in a game receiving mark for the fourth time in his career. He also surpassed 200 career receptions.
He set a league record for the most catches by a receiver after two games in NFL history, with 28. Adding 10 receptions and 129 yards against division rival Atlanta in week three put Thomas in the record book again. His 38 receptions in the first three games were the most in NFL history. In a heavy-weight match against the undefeated Rams in Week 9, Thomas broke the Saints single-game record for receiving yards with 211, including a 72-yard touchdown. This performance also earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors as his Saint's outlasted Los Angeles in a 45-35 shootout.
The Future Is Bright
In only two seasons Michael Thomas has established himself as arguably the top wide receiver in the league. At 6'3'' and 212 pounds, he has the size and leaping ability to fight for contested balls against smaller cornerbacks, and he's strong enough to go across the middle against safeties and linebackers. Thomas has 4.5 speed, so if defenses jam him at the line, he has the strength to get past initial contact and then kick in the jets to beat defenders on deep routes. Michael Thomas has his sights set on greatness, and he will find a way.