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Michael Thomas' lack of deep production doesn't diminish his case to be the NFL's top wideout

Michael Thomas is one of the best receivers in the NFL. I know this falls into the category of “well, no kidding, Sherlock,” but apparently this is more of a debatable point than I had previously been led to believe, so we’re going to indulge the argument.

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Let’s start with the box score numbers. No receiver can come close to the volume of catches Thomas has amassed since entering the league. At 470 receptions, he has 77 more than the next closest receiver (DeAndre Hopkins) and is only second in terms of targets (584 — 23 behind Hopkins). He is second to only Julio Jones in terms of receiving yards (5,512) and tied for fifth in touchdowns (32).

Using pretty much any box score number, Thomas has been as productive as any receiver in football. And the same story continues if you dive deeper into advanced data and PFF grades.

Michael Thomas Since Entering the NFL in 2016
Receiving grade Rec. Yds Yds per route run TD 1st downs
Michael Thomas 93.8 (2nd) 470 (1st) 5,512 (2nd) 2.5 (2nd) 32 (T-5th) 299 (1st)

*Regular season only

Only Julio Jones can top the 93.8 PFF receiving grade Thomas has earned since entering the league, and nobody has been as efficient at moving the chains.

With 299 first-down catches, Thomas has 13 more than any other receiver in the league, and there are only six other wideouts over that span who have even topped 200. He has the highest catch rate of catchable targets (93.8%) of any receiver with 400-plus targets, the third-highest rate of any receiver with 300 or more and the lowest drop-rate (3.0%) of that group. In terms of yards per route run — a statistic absolutely owned by Julio Jones over his career — Thomas' average of 2.5 ranks second only to Jones since 2016.

So where does the criticism come from?

Ignoring the idea that he provokes some of it on social media, Thomas effectively suffers stylistically compared to some other players in the same way Tom Brady and Drew Brees always have. “All they do is dink and dunk underneath, system players!” For as silly as that is as a true criticism, what it does is articulate a stylistic preference we have as consumers of football for exciting players.


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