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Spotlight: Mike Thomas

posted by Andrew Garda on Aug 12th


Andrew Garda's thoughts

Mike Thomas emerged as a solid sleeper candidate right after the 2009 season, where he came on heavy in the last two weeks. With Mike Sims-Walker attracting attention (when healthy), Thomas was able to find room in the secondary and make a lot of plays. Thomas finished 3rd among Jaguars receivers in both receptions and yards that season; but was in line for a larger role in 2010 because Torry Holt wasn't set to return.

However, 2010 saw a bigger than expected improvement with a leap to 101 targets of which he caught 66%. The amount of targets was partly due to Sims-Walker's injuries, but also because Thomas is just darn reliable. That 66% ratio isn't a fluke - in 2009, Thomas caught 77% of his targets, though admittedly that was over a much smaller sample. Thomas has fantastic hands and fights for the ball. Quarterback David Garrard has to love that and it shows in how much he relies on Thomas.

Sims-Walker is gone, off catching Sam Bradford passes, which leaves Mike Thomas in the first spot in Jacksonville. Can he succeed as a WR1?

Thomas is quick and tough but is also undersized at 5'8". He will fight for the ball and can make tough grabs but against the taller corners that often draw the opposing team's #1WR, he will probably have a much harder time. His height isn't the only thing that makes Thomas better suited as a #2 receiver or slot option. Add to that a stunning lack of anyone else who will pull coverage off of Thomas and there's bound to be some struggles.

Hopefully Jason Hill will recover from his poor training camp or Jarrett Dillard and rookie Cecil Shorts will step up. If one of them does, and takes over the lead slot, Thomas will have a much easier time producing. But don't count on it.

Another factor is the dominance of RB Maurice Jones-Drew. With the inconsistent play at quarterback and a lack of quality depth at wideout, this only becomes more and more Jones-Drew's team. The good aspect of this is the defense cannot just lay back and defend the pass. The downside is the offense will usually run through Jones-Drew, limiting the overall opportunities for the rest of the offense, especially in the red zone.

In spite of all these concerns, I believe Thomas will have a solid season and still rack up a notable fantasy point total for his fantasy owners. He may not crack the 1,000-yard barrier, but he should be able to total the now-usual 800 plus yards and I expect his touchdowns to climb again this year as they did in 2010. Given the lack of consistent depth behind him, Thomas should see more red zone targets, although as usual the bulk will go to the running backs.

One final observation. I've heard several people comment that 50 yards of Thomas' production came on one flukey play and therefore we should be cautious with what has been termed an inflated number. Yes it was flukey, but the difference between that catch and not having it accounts for five points and to me, doesn't factor into his stats so much that discounting it really is an issue one way or the other. I don't like the 'well if you remove play X, then Y' argument to begin with, but in this case it makes so little difference in the grand scheme of things as to be in my opinion, not worth worrying about. Count it or discount it as you please, but either way, it doesn't discount his overall ability and situation and in the grand scheme of things should have little impact in your predictions.

I expect Thomas to have a good season, but this could be a case where a player would be more productive with a less important role.

Positives

  • Tough, hardworking player
  • Great hands, reliable target
  • More opportunity by stepping into the number one spot

Negatives

  • Is a much better fit as a WR2, may struggle with extra attention, better defenders
  • Quarterback play is inconsistent at best
  • Potential injury risk if he is kept as a punt returner

Final thoughts

I've been a huge Mike Thomas advocate since he hit the league and love his playing style and ability. Unfortunately I don't think he fits in as a primary wide receiver. Even if he had a very good player opposite him, his size still makes it hard for him to compete with the bigger and stronger corners he will see as the number one target. Unless someone steps up out of nowhere, Thomas lacks someone who can pull the coverage.

All this means there is a chance that not only does he not take a step forward in his development but might regress instead. The extra attention might make it hard to get him the ball and bring his numbers down.

I still believe Thomas reaches about the same numbers he did last season. However, the other factors at work bring about some extra risk that was not as prevalent last season. As that is the case, rely on Thomas as your WR3 or 4. It mitigates the risk and makes his upside more valuable.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

MrTwo94 said:

Let's remember that 1/50/1 of his 66/820/4 came from one terrible play by the Houston defense where if Quin just let the ball drop we win the game. Instead, with Jax players behind the pass, Quin swats it 5 yards towards the other players and Mike Thomas is then gifted a 50 yd TD that he in no way earned. I know the "you can't take away the big play" theory, and I agree with it, but this was no big play. This was straight fluke. That's just to say that 65/770/3 is not very impressive from a fantasy perspective but it did net him WR31 status by FBG scoring. He could feasibly have a bigger impact, but rather than dole out inflated expectations, I'll realistically expect something similar to last year. MSW was by no means commanding a lot of looks on the other side. I think last year's 101 targets is about as much as we can expect for Thomas. If a rookie QB comes in then prodcution expectations should be even lower.

That being said, '08 and 09' saw 178 and 176 receptions go to wide receivers while last year saw only 134. It is safe to assume that whoever the WR opposite Thomas will land more than the 43 MSW did.

FantasyTrader said:

The stat I zone in on with WR's is catch %. It gets to the heart of a WR's potential within an offense. And in regards to Mike Thomas, it was plenty healthy at 66% last year. Other than Sims-Walker and Thomas, no other Jags' wide receiver was targeted more than 22 times last year. Twenty...two! What that says to me is - like it or not Mike, keep your head on a swivel because here comes the ball. If he takes even 30% of what Sims-Walker's absence leaves on the table we're looking at an 83 reception, 1,030 yard receiver. Touchdowns be damned, that's a bona fide #2 fantasy receiver. I dare say one of most undervalued names at the position this year.

rzrback77 said:

I like the Mike Thomas to Steve Smith (Car) comparisons. Both are smallish, quick WRs who also have strength and can make long gains. This is only Thomas's third year in the league and yet he already has 114 receptions. Toward the end of 2010, he became the go-to WR for the Jaguars.

I worry a little that his production will dip in 2011 as the Jags could transition to a rookie QB, but then Garrard has never been that solid of a QB himself. FBG's current ADP for Thomas shows him falling to 103 overall and WR 37, which seems low for a guy coming into his third season and also finished the year rather strong. In 2010, he ranked as the WR 31 and that was for non-ppr. With 66 catches, it would seem that he would have finished higher in ppr.

The Jags could look to add a WR FA before the season and of course, depending on who that is Thomas could be slipped back to #2 for targets again. I guess that I am kind of on the fence, but if he is there at WR 35 or so, it seems to me like I would be happy to pull the trigger.

Zdravko said:

I love Thomas, but I see too much hype around him these days. Some of it is justified, but most of it is based on the assumption that MSW is gone and Thomas will take over all the targets.

I don't think that is true for several reasons.

One, have you guys actually watched JAX? I live nearby, so I get to watch a bunch of Jaguars football and I can tell you Mike Thomas is borderline unusable outside his specialty: the slot, the shorter routes and the special plays like end-arounds. I can't imagine that Jack Del Rio will game-plan with Thomas being his go-to receiver for any plays designed to go beyond 15-20 yards. That puts a serious dent in Thomas' upside.

Two, let's look at the data. Weeks 11, 13, 16, 17 are the closest we get to seeing what happens post-MSW. Mike Thomas got 25% of the targets in those four weeks compared to 22% in the other twelve. Hardly a substantial increase. The much bigger beneficiaries were the TEs at first and then Jason Hill.

Three, Jason Hill. He outperformed MSW and his replacements Tiquan and Osgood. Right now there is a strong interest in Jacksonville to use Hill as the starter in 2011. As of right now, I think he is the best bet to take 90% of the MSW role. That leaves Thomas with basically the same role as last season.

Finally, people quote Thomas' 2010 stats a lot. Fair enough, but don't forget 60 yards and 1 TD came on that once-in-a-lifetime play.


Mike Thomas projections

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