News & Analysis

Saints' Michael Thomas selected as PFF's best wide receiver from the 2019 season

One of the toughest awards to decide upon this season was the best receiver in the NFL regardless of position. Even when we confined ourselves to just wideouts, we were given a sequence of players tightly bunched together in terms of PFF grade, all of whom had extremely strong cases for the title of the NFL's best pass-catcher for 2019.

Ultimately, we settled on New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas as the best receiver in the NFL this season.

Thomas broke the all-time single-season receptions record, and he did it with a game to spare. He ended the year with 149 catches, six more than the previous record.

This is a record that had stood since the 2002 season, and the closest anybody had come to it before this year was seven catches shy. Thomas then added seven more in his lone playoff appearance, despite the Minnesota Vikings' defense having an entire game plan devised around limiting his impact and slowing him down.

That, in a nutshell, represents the greatness of Michael Thomas this season. Everybody knows how he wins and how the Saints want to get him the ball, but they still couldn’t stop it. Thomas had double-digit targets in 12 games this season. On the year, he caught 83% of those targets, surpassing 100 receiving yards 10 times despite averaging under 12 yards per catch.

Leaders in yards per route run for 2019 (WRs and regular season only)
Rk Name Targets  Yards Snaps in Route YPRR
1 Michael Thomas 180 1725 599 2.88
2 A.J. Brown 84 1051 393 2.67
2 Stefon Diggs 91 1125 421 2.67
4 Tyreek Hill 87 860 351 2.45
5 Julio Jones 149 1394 572 2.44

The other thing to remember about this historic season is that Thomas did it without his future Hall of Fame quarterback, Drew Brees, for the better part of six games. During that run with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, Thomas didn’t skip a beat, averaging nine catches for 107 yards a game and scoring three of the nine touchdowns he had on the season.

Thomas was impossible to stop when it came to moving the chains for the Saints' offense. Over the year, he had 16 more first-down receptions than any other receiver, and while his yardage total is definitely a reflection of his weight of catches, he also led all wide receivers in yards per route run, knocking Julio Jones off the top spot of that particular statistical category for the first time in three years.

In the entire time that Drew Brees has been putting up record numbers in New Orleans, the veteran QB has never had a favorite target like Thomas. The share of passes he's sent to Thomas since he joined the team is by far the highest of any single receiver during his NFL career, and for good reason. This season, targeting Thomas yielded a passer rating of 123.3, and for his entire career, that mark is 118.5. Thomas’ twitter handle is @Cantguardmike, and there may be no more fitting moniker because much though teams try, they find it near impossible to do so.

Drew Brees' most targeted receivers (2006-2019, postseason included)
Player Season Targets % of Brees' total pass attempts
Michael Thomas 2019 125 30.4%
Michael Thomas 2018 160 28.2%
Michael Thomas 2017 161 26.4%
Marques Colston 2007 143 21.9%
Jimmy Graham 2011 161 21.1%
Marques Colston 2006 132 20.8%
Marques Colston 2009 123 20.0%
Alvin Kamara 2018 113 19.9%
Jimmy Graham 2013 143 19.8%
Jimmy Graham 2012 131 19.6%

Thomas also doesn’t get the benefit of a strong receiving corps to take attention away from him. Statistically, that is a double-edged sword — what you gain in less attention you lose in targets going elsewhere — but it does underline the job he has been able to do despite the entire opposing defense keying in on him as the primary receiving threat to stop.

You can make strong cases for the incredible receiving seasons that several other players had this season: George Kittle earned the best PFF grade by any player at any position in 2019. Austin Ekeler racked up almost 1,000 receiving yards for the Los Angeles Chargers and earned the top receiving mark among backs, and Christian McCaffrey had an absurd 116 catches and over 1,000 receiving yards as basically the only functioning weapon for the Carolina Panthers. At receiver, Tampa Bay‘s Chris Godwin was spectacular all season, and Atlanta‘s Julio Jones just had a “quiet” 1,400-yard season. But, in the end, Michael Thomas earned the award with the most impressive performance of them all.

You simply @CantGuardMike, and that’s what made him the best receiver in the NFL in 2019.

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