FLAFFL Feud: Michael Thomas

Guess who’s back; back again. Tony and I; tell a friend! Okay, well I am obviously no Slim Shady, but I guarantee I win this rap battle once again! Tony is still upset he lost to me the first go-around. I wiped the floor clean with him in our FLAFFL Feud on Jordan Howard. That task was easy for me. This one, well it will be more difficult.

This time Tony and I will be pairing up to debate last year’s rookie sensation, Michael Thomas. If you have yet to read a FLAFFL Feud article, I suggest going back and reading up on the other players that have been debated thus far. Two writers square off in a battle. One writer is for the player in question and the other is against that player.

You are in for a treat with this one. I know I said it would be more difficult than the Jordan Howard feud, but let’s face it…Tony does not have a chance. I will let him go first this time since he thinks Michael Thomas is worth drafting. Then I will wipe the floor clean with him yet again.

Beast in the Bayou

by Anthony Reimer (@reimeras)

There are two factors that are most important when discussing a high draft capitol fantasy asset like Michael Thomas: skill and opportunity. Thomas has both of these qualities in spades, err well, fleur de lis. While some of his detractors, like my counterpart in his piece, might argue that he is still unproven, this is the wrong approach. If you only focus on the size of Thomas’s sample size, you'll miss how great his production was. After all, size isn't everything am I right?

Thomas was a perplexing prospect coming out of college. Posting decent, but not mindbending, numbers in college, Thomas still earned a reputation as a hard working and sure handed weapon in Urban Meyer’s offense. Scouts drooled over his size, but his athletic profile didn't match the player on tape and he fell out of the first round. He answered that slight by recording one of the most impressive rookie seasons by a WR in recent memory. In fact, per Matt Harmon's Perception Reception, Thomas compiled the most impressive rookie season since Odell Beckham Jr in 2014. Perhaps you've heard of that guy. Harmon also charted Thomas’ success versus all coverages in the 88th percentile. Thomas compared favorably to veterans last year as well. Football Outsiders ranked Thomas number two in DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement) second only to Julio Jones.

Thomas proved himself to be a touchdown machine. He was eleventh in the league in red zone targets, catching 13 of the 19 passes thrown his way. Digging deeper, he was third in the league in targets inside the ten yard line, catching 7 of 11 targets for 7 touchdowns. Those stats are even more impressive when you consider that he didn't start playing more than 75% of snaps until Week 7! In that time frame (weeks 7 through 17) Thomas was the WR6 in PPR.

What makes Thomas even more enticing than his skill is his opportunity. While some people may say that Drew Brees spreads the ball around too much to produce any one stud, that isn't necessarily the case. It is true that Brees spreads the ball around, but trust me, there is plenty of love to go around. In the past five seasons, Brees has attempted no fewer than 627 passes, and thrown for no fewer than 4,870 yards. In that time frame, the leading pass catcher in New Orleans has had less than 1,100 receiving yards only one time. Last season, Thomas led all Saints receivers with 121 targets. Brandin Cooks was second in the team with 117 targets. If you haven't been paying attention, Cooks plays for New England now, leaving a lot of available targets behind. Most people will say that this helps Willie Snead the most. People may tell you to pass on Thomas in favor of Snead at the better value. Ask people who passed on Hilton last year in favor of Moncrief at a cheaper cost how that worked out. While I love Willie Snead later in drafts, Thomas essentially pushed Snead out of the way and proved himself to be a more consistent target, especially in the red zone.

The last time a rookie burst on to the scene in New Orleans the way Michael Thomas did was 2006 with Marques Colston. He emerged as Brees “go to” guy that year, and many people said that Colston’s rookie success wasn't repeatable. Not only did Colston repeat his production, he exceeded it, catching 98 passes for 1,202 yards. The fact of the matter is when a pass catcher earns Brees’ trust, good things happen for fantasy football.

In 2015, Odell Beckham Jr. was a mid-second round pick mostly because of people not believing the small sample size from the year before. OBJ answered those critics and turned himself into a consistent top 3 pick in 2016. While I'm not going to say that Thomas is as good of a receiver as Beckham, I do believe he has the ability to jump into that upper echelon conversation. Oh, and he has Drew Brees. Almost every metric I've looked at shows Thomas to be as bust proof as one can be in fantasy football, despite the small sample size. So don't make the same mistake people made in 2015. Believe what your eyes showed you last season, believe in Michael Thomas’s skill, and most importantly believe in Michael Thomas’s opportunity.

Swamp Thing

by Rob Schwarz (@chiruxindfs)

Michael Thomas was a beast last season. He was WR7 in FLAFFL scoring and 41st overall. So why would I be against drafting him in 2017? There are three reasons why I think people need to stay away from Thomas.

Brandin Cooks is gone; Thomas will now see tougher competition and Willie Snead. Boom! Mic drop and I win. Well, since you paid admission for this article (you did pay to read this right?), I guess I should give you a little more, otherwise this would be the shortest (best) argument ever!

In 2016, Michael Thomas had the pleasure of playing with Drew Brees. Brees did not go anywhere, but he had the most pass attempts on the year. He will likely be top-five in pass attempts in 2017 too, but here is why that does not matter. Brandin Cooks is now off the team. Cooks was traded to New England where he will have a legit shot at winning a Super Bowl. With Cooks gone, that leaves more targets for Michael Thomas, right?

Not so fast!

Last season, Brees targeted Michael Thomas 122 times. That was the 22nd most targets in the NFL. Brandin Cooks was targeted 117 times. Realistically, not all 117 of Cooks’ targets will go to Michael Thomas. I am predicting Thomas sees 140 targets in 2017. That is only 18 more than last year. Again, this is a good thing. 140 targets would have put Thomas as the 12th most targeted player in 2016. Efficiency though is why I have my doubts about Thomas.

In 2016, Michael Thomas caught 76 percent of his passes. That was the best pass catch percentage among the top 25 most targeted players last year. The closest to him was Doug Baldwin who caught 75 percent of his targets. After that, the drop off is drastic. Your top receivers like Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham, Jr. were not above a 70 percent catch rate. So either Michael Thomas is on a path to be the best wide receiver since, well I do not know if anyone could be a better receiver at fantasy football than Antonio Brown, but you get my point. Thomas is due for some negative regression.

Give him those extra 18 targets, but I say he doesn’t catch more than his 92 receptions. Thomas also had nine touchdowns in 2016. Brandin Cooks had eight. We all know Drew Brees likes to spread the ball around. He threw 37 touchdowns last year. That leaves 20 touchdowns that went to guys not named Thomas or Cooks. The next highest total on the team: four. That’s right, only four touchdowns. The likelihood of Thomas seeing much more than his nine touchdowns is slim. In fact, Marques Colston was the last receiver to hit double-digit touchdowns for the Saints and it came in 2012. Jimmy Graham had three seasons in the double digits, but last I checked, Thomas is not a tight end.

Now, do not be fooled here. I think Michael Thomas will have a good year. I have him ranked as my WR14. I just do not like where he is being drafted. I have been working on a draft model (unfortunately it will not be ready for the masses this season) and at Thomas’ current ADP of 2.03 (4for4.com) he would need to match or exceed his season last year to hit that value. I just do not see that happening.

My model is based on projections and I have Michael Thomas catching 86 balls for 1100 yards and nine touchdowns. My projections for him would give the value of the 2.12 pick instead of the 2.03. Basically, if you can get Thomas in the third round of a 12-team league I do not have a problem with it. If you think he will exceed these numbers, I am curious what you project him for and I will tell you where your projections would have him valued at for this season. Then, I will tell you why you are wrong. Yes Tony, you are wrong!

Here is the thing. Brandin Cooks is gone and that means Michael Thomas is the clear-cut number one receiver. That also means that Thomas is going to see the number one corners and safeties now. Not to mention, he is going to see more double-teams. The competition is going to be better than what he saw in 2016 and I do not see him exceeding his rookie year. This is why I am a big fan of Willie Snead too. Snead will be featured more, but see the lesser of the competition.

Snead has been great for the Saints, but he lacks the touchdown upside playing as the number-three option. Well, this year he should be the second option in the passing game. Snead has an ADP of 8.04. I love that value much more than I do Thomas. Snead caught 72 of 104 targets last year. That is a 69.2 percent catch rate. He had a 67.6 percent catch rate in 2015 with 102 targets. I see his targets increasing into the 120 range and his catch rate dropping closer to 64 percent. That means he should catch 77 balls this year. I also have him exceeding 1,000 yards. In fact, I have him hitting 1,100 yards just like I do Thomas. The difference is Snead only had four touchdowns in 2016 and three in 2015. As the second option in the offense I have scoring seven times this year. To recap, that is 77 catches for 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns. He has an ADP of 8.04 but he values out with my projections as being worth the 3.10 pick.

Do not, and I repeat, do not draft Snead at 3.10 when he has an ADP of 8.03. I would consider reaching for him in the seventh round though. Think about it. If my projections are right, that would mean Snead is a third round value you are getting in the seventh round! I would much rather have him as my WR3 than Michael Thomas as my WR1. I also do not like owning two receivers from the same team in a 12-team or less league.

To sum it all up…I am not against owning Michael Thomas as my WR2 if I were going Zero-RB strategy. He should have a good season as most receivers do in New Orleans. I just think he is being over-valued. If you can get him for the right value, he is worth it. I might be a little too down on him as my WR14 too. However, I just think he does not have the upside I want when it comes to picking in the first or second round. I know. I won this thing easily again. Just do not make Tony feel too bad. Wait, what am I saying, rub it in his face how bad his opinions were and how you think I won again!

Added bonus: If you can get Thomas and Snead in best ball, that would be an ideal pairing this season on the Play Draft App.