Michael Thomas took a circuitous route to Ohio State. After high school, he spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy, left as a four-star recruit and arrived in Columbus for the 2012 season. Thomas didn’t get much playing time as a freshman, making just three catches for 22 yards, and he ended up redshirting in 2013, reportedly due to grades and issues learning the Buckeyes’ playbook, although part of it probably had to do with Philly Brown and Devin Smith sitting atop the depth chart.
Thomas, who checks in at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, saw his first significant action in 2014, making 54 grabs for 799 yards and nine scores. He nearly repeated those exact numbers in 2015, finishing with 56 receptions for 781 yards and nine touchdowns. While the numbers are underwhelming for a top-tier receiver prospect, Ohio State’s offense isn’t conducive to prolific receiving stats.
Thomas is one of the more intriguing receivers in this class, and, honestly, he’s a player I hadn’t fully explored and researched until doing this piece. I had done some work on him and combed through some information, including Kyle Pollock’s article for our 20/20 series, but I felt too uninformed to have a strong opinion.
After doing the work, I can say Thomas was a really hard guy for me to put my finger on. It seems like I’m not alone in my struggle. In our 2016 rankings, all nine rankers have Thomas slotted somewhere between WR3 and WR7. Yet, in our most recent staff mock draft, Thomas wasn’t taken in the first round. Maybe it was a fluky one-time occurrence, maybe we’re not very smart or maybe there’s a reason to doubt him.
Let’s dig in.
[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]
First up is Thomas’ chart from MockDraftable.com, where we can see how his measurables stack up against his peers:
Just a quick glance at the list of similar players generates some excitement. Even if the list were Larry Fitzgerald and nine players we didn’t know, it would be exciting, but add in Keenan Allen, Josh Gordon and Jordan Matthews, and, dang, that’s an impressive list. Of course, it doesn’t mean Thomas is going to have a similar career to any of them, but it’s comforting to know he tested similarly to players of that caliber.
First thing I notice is the hand size, which is in the 97th percentile and helps explain his stupid-good 4.3 percent drop rate, per CFBfilmroom.com. In addition to the large mitts, Thomas ranks in at least the 70th percentile in bench press, broad jump, three-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle, height and weight. He’s lacking, to varying degrees, in his vertical jump, 60-yard shuttle, arm length and 40-yard dash.
Onto his Player Profile chart, via PlayerProfiler.com:
Thomas doesn’t knock it out the park in any of the athletic metrics, but he doesn’t swing and miss, either.
His catch radius ranks in the 72nd percentile while Thomas’ agility score is in the 78th percentile. His 40 time doesn’t set the world on fire, but his height-adjusted speed score, which ranks in the 66th percentile, is more than respectable. Thomas’ College Dominator rating, his share of Ohio State’s total team yards and touchdowns, is in the 77th percentile and helps offset the mediocre counting stats we touched on earlier.
Because Thomas spent a year at a prep school and also took a redshirt season at Ohio State, he’s already turned 23. Just for reference, Amari Cooper was 21 during his rookie season. Thomas’ age isn’t a huge issue, but it’s a negative nonetheless and results in his Breakout Age ranking in the 24th percentile. His yards-per-catch clip of 13.9 is another poor mark, putting Thomas in the 40th percentile.
Lastly, let’s see Thomas in action:
This is from Ohio State’s 2015 season opener at Virginia Tech. Facing off with Kendall Fuller, one of the country’s top cornerbacks, Thomas finishes with two catches for 46 yards and a touchdown. I like this film because of the matchup with Fuller, but here’s Thomas’ Maryland tape, where he’s featured more prominently as he totaled seven catches for 107 yards.
Thomas is a receiver who is good working open against man coverage. He runs routes with purpose and breaks with power. His ability to beat man coverage can be seen on both of his catches versus the Hokies. On the Buckeyes’ first snap, he beats Fuller to the inside on a slant route, taking the inside position immediately off the line. Thomas sets up his break with a nice shoulder lean to the outside (about five yards into the route) before snapping inside and making the grab. Everything about how he gets open is excellent.
Thomas’ second catch is a 26-yard touchdown on a stutter-and-go. Ohio State caught Virginia Tech in the perfect defense for a double move as Fuller is isolated in man coverage with zero help. This would be a tough cover for any corner, but Thomas undresses Fuller with a brilliant route, resulting in an easy touchdown. Thomas certainly does a good job on the play, but it was also a great play call at the perfect time.
Ohio State only completed 11 passes for 213 yards in the game, so there wasn’t a ton of production to spread around. With that said, Thomas was fairly quiet for most of the evening, struggling to make much of an impact against Fuller’s man coverage outside of the double move.
Thomas is a nifty route runner, but he mostly ran a whole mess of outs, posts and slants with the Buckeyes. For all of his coaching greatness, Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer doesn’t ask his wideouts to run a diverse route tree. If Thomas really did have trouble learning the Buckeyes’ playbook, he will be in for a rude awakening when he starts digging into an NFL system, which could hinder his chances to produce as a rookie. It’s hard to make this into too big of a negative for Thomas. He did fairly well on the routes he was asked to run, and he doesn’t have control over the lack of route diversity.
A far bigger problem for me is his lack of physicality. Thomas plays smaller than his size. To me, Thomas doesn’t play all that differently than Will Fuller. Thomas struggles with contested catches and doesn’t consistently make plays after the catch, both of which should be the calling card of a big-bodied wideout with good speed. At the 3:25 mark in the Virginia Tech video, Thomas doesn’t come back and go get a jump ball, rather letting it fall down to him. The pass is underthrown — pass interference is called on the play — but I’d like to see him stop a step or two earlier, jump up and high point the ball. Elite receivers in the NFL make a living off these plays, and Thomas rarely shows the “my ball” attitude shared by those alpha wideouts.
Along with this, I see a lot more body catches (first play against Virginia Tech, 2:50 versus Maryland) than I expected to see from a wideout with such a stellar drop rate. Too many times, the ball gets into his chest rather than Thomas snatching it out of the air. At the end of the day, though, I guess the fact he catches most catchable balls may outweigh how he catches them, but those body catches do give defensive backs an extra millisecond to break up the play.
A receiver of Thomas’ size who doesn’t possess blazing speed is probably going to see a lot of press-man coverage in the NFL. When he saw it in college, rather than using his hands to keep the defensive back’s hands off him, Thomas preferred to beat jams with dancing and footwork at the snap, which can result in wasting precious time.
I don’t think Thomas has good spatial awareness, either. It really shows up in his struggles against zone coverage. This is a weird thing to say, but Thomas runs into the ball carrier too much when he’s trying to block. I first noticed this when researching Ezekiel Elliott (<3), and it can be seen a couple times versus Maryland. I don’t know why it’s happening, but Thomas keeps finding himself in the path of Elliott and other Ohio State ball carriers.
Combine this with his reported struggles learning the playbook, and it makes me wonder about his football intelligence. However, it could be completely insignificant. A lot of times, especially with a back of Elliott’s caliber, a running play doesn’t end up going exactly where it was intended. In general, Thomas isn’t a good blocker, which is another ding against his physicality. The similarly-sized Laquon Treadwell is a cold-blooded bully who seeks out big hits. We don’t get fantasy points for downfield blocks, but whoever drafts Thomas is going to require him to give a lot more effort in this department.
When I have a contrarian opinion on a player, it doesn’t necessarily excite me. In fact, it’s the opposite; it scares me. I assume I’m wrong, and I’m the one missing something. It makes me go back and question my thoughts and opinions. I re-read what others have said, look for new information and I re-watch the tape. I’ve done that with Thomas, and I’ve done it multiple times. I just don’t see it. If Thomas didn’t have mouth-watering physical size, I don’t think he’d be anywhere near an upper-echelon receiver prospect.
Despite the low drop rate, he catches a lot of passes unnaturally. Thomas doesn’t win with big plays — either on deep balls or after the catch — and he’s pedestrian in contested-catch situations. At times, he appears to be playing passively or not at full speed. The tape did not line up with his solid testing numbers.
In a lot of ways, I think Thomas is the complete opposite of Treadwell in terms of how they play football. While Thomas struggles with the physical aspects of the game — press-man coverage, contested catches and making plays after the catch — Treadwell thrives in those areas. On the other hand, Treadwell has a tough time separating from coverage while Thomas is creative in his route running and gets open a lot easier.
I think there is a large gap between Thomas’ ceiling and his floor. To me, his ceiling and best-case scenario, if he is able to improve on several areas of his game, is Jordan Matthews, who is a very good NFL receiver but not a physically dominant wideout. If Thomas can reach that level and become a high end WR2, he’s certainly worth an early pick in rookie drafts.
His floor is Chad Jackson, a former second-round pick of the New England Patriots who totaled 171 receiving yards in his career — also known as a complete bust. At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Jackson, like Thomas, came out of a Meyer system (Florida) possessing the coveted size-speed combination. Like Thomas, he never had a truly monster college season, failing to break the 1,000-yard mark with the Gators, although he did haul in 88 passes as a junior.
The odds are against Thomas being a total bust, but I think he is very much a work in progress and will need time to adjust to the NFL. Coupled with the fact he’s already 23, it makes for a less-than-ideal situation. What I keep coming back to, though, is his lack of dominant play. Josh Doctson is old for his grade, but he’s put dominant play on tape. Thomas has the physical tools and most of the measurables desired in No. 1 receivers, but he hasn’t yet played like one. By nature, I struggle to come around on players like this.
I’m someone who has to see something to believe it. I don’t know if there are UFOs, but you could tell me the most detailed UFO sighting story — heck, it could be my wife telling me about her encounter — and I probably wouldn’t believe it unless I saw it myself. I’m not saying this is the right way to view things. In fact, it has a whiff of self-centeredness and has bitten me on the backside several times throughout my life. But that’s who I am.
Last year, Dorial Green-Beckham was perceived as a wideout who had some question marks — all of which weren’t character related — but he came with a very high ceiling. I was completely on board with Green-Beckham, because he had shown dominant traits, albeit in small flashes, at the college level. I could see that ceiling because I was able to see it, if that makes sense. Thomas was productive at Ohio State, but he did not dominate in any aspect of the game.
Thomas reminds me of Rueben Randle, a receiver I look at and think he should be better than what he is. If you watch a highlight reel of Randle — Terrance Williams also fits this mold — it wouldn’t be hard to fall in love with him. He has the size and athleticism we crave. For whatever reason, it never consistently materializes in on-field performance.
Thomas will probably develop, and he could improve a lot of his weaknesses. As we saw with some of his measurables, there have been several similar players who turned his body type and athleticism into very good NFL careers. Everyone is different, and everyone has different opinions on players. To me, that’s what makes dynasty football so enjoyable. Thomas may be everything you’re looking for in a receiver, and you may be thrilled to spend an early first-round pick on him in a rookie draft. And you know what? You could end up being correct.
For me, though, it’s too much of a risk unless he slips into the tail end of the first round. When I spend an early first-round pick on a receiver, I want to see physically dominant play on the field paired with great athletic traits. In my eyes, as of now, Thomas is only half the package.
- Dynasty Capsule: Indianapolis Colts - January 17, 2019
- 2018 Summer Sleeper: Los Angeles Chargers - July 31, 2018
- Four Receivers to Sell this Off-Season - April 24, 2018