Fantasy: Mike Thomas – Top 25 Wide Receiver

| June 6, 2011

I’ve been a part of a few dynasty startup drafts this year, have perused other recent dynasty drafts, and continue to comb through various dynasty rankings. I am baffled at how low Mike Thomas of the Jaguars is being drafted/ranked.  His average draft position is WR #35 and he is ranked in the WR#35 to WR#40 range by many experts. With his 2010 season production as a first year starter with the Jags and with Mike Sims-Walker likely leaving in free agency, those numbers don’t make sense to me.

Here’s why:

1.     He’ll be the #1 WR in Jacksonville in 2011 with Mike Sims-Walker gone via free agency.

2.     The Jaguars only drafted Cecil Shorts in the 2011 NFL Draft, who won’t threaten Thomas’ starting spot.

3.     He finished the 2010 season with more targets (99) than any of the other Jaguar receivers as the #2 WR on the team.

4.     He finished at WR#30 in PPR leagues in 2010 in his 2nd NFL season.

5.     He’s improved his production in each of his first two seasons even after a strong rookie year in 2009.

Considering all of that, I want to peel back Thomas’ numbers and:

  • Dig deeper into the WR#30 finish in 2010 to compare Thomas’ fantasy production to other WRs in the league.
  • Compare him to “similar players” like Steve Smith (NYG), Percy Harvin, and Steve Smith (CAR) to understand what kind of production we can expect from Thomas going forward.

Deeper Look at Thomas’ 2010 Season

This listing includes players who finished the 2010 season ranked ahead of Thomas in PPR leagues (removing older players like Terrell Owens, Derrick Mason, etc.), as well as the players who are currently being drafted/ranked higher than Thomas.

Player FP FP/Snap FP/Opp FP/Week TA / Pass Route
1 Roddy White 313.2 0.33 0.50 19.58 27%
2 Brandon Lloyd 286 0.33 0.47 17.88 24%
3 Reggie Wayne 281.5 0.25 0.40 17.59 24%
4 Dwayne Bowe 277.6 0.29 0.53 17.35 24%
5 Greg Jennings 273.4 0.31 0.45 17.09 20%
6 Calvin Johnson 263.2 0.26 0.40 17.55 20%
7 Andre Johnson 255.6 0.31 0.48 19.66 25%
8 Hakeem Nicks 249.2 0.32 0.52 19.17 26%
9 Mike Wallace 248.6 0.25 0.45 15.54 17%
10 Steve Johnson 248.3 0.26 0.43 15.52 24%
11 Larry Fitzgerald 239.7 0.25 0.38 14.98 26%
12 Santana Moss 236.9 0.24 0.36 14.81 22%
13 Miles Austin 229.8 0.23 0.36 14.36 18%
14 Jeremy Maclin 229 0.23 0.35 14.31 16%
15 Marques Colston 228.3 0.28 0.39 14.27 22%
16 Mike A. Williams 222.5 0.23 0.39 13.91 21%
17 Wes Welker 212.8 0.29 0.46 14.19 26%
18 Percy Harvin 204.8 0.32 0.51 14.63 27%
19 Brandon Marshall 203.7 0.25 0.39 14.55 26%
20 DeSean Jackson 202.2 0.25 0.35 13.48 16%
21 Anquan Boldin 188.66 0.19 0.34 11.79 19%
22 Braylon Edwards 184.8 0.20 0.35 11.55 18%
23 Mike Thomas 183 0.23 0.36 11.44 20%
24 Pierre Garcon 182 0.19 0.30 13.00 19%
25 Danny Amendola 179 0.26 0.38 11.19 25%
26 Johnny Knox 177.6 0.20 0.32 11.10 17%
27 Austin Collie 169.9 0.40 0.58 18.88 24%
28 Michael Crabtree 165.1 0.18 0.29 10.32 16%
29 Santonio Holmes 163.3 0.28 0.44 13.61 24%
30 Dez Bryant 136.1 0.32 0.41 11.34 21%
31 Steve Smith 118.9 0.22 0.37 12.46 22%
32 Jacoby Ford 111.5 0.19 0.33 9.29 15%
33 Arrelious Benn 79 0.22 0.44 5.27 21%
34 Emmanuel Sanders 77.6 0.19 0.26 7.76 16%
35 Vincent Jackson 57.2 0.26 0.48 11.44 17%
36 Sidney Rice 57 0.18 0.31 9.50 21%

The above tells us that as the #2 WR behind Mike Sims-Walker and in the WR population above, Mike Thomas:

  1. Finished as the #23 WR in PPR leagues in overall fantasy points (FP)
  2. Ranked 25th in fantasy points per snap
  3. Ranked 24th in fantasy points per opportunity (i.e., passing plays)
  4. Ranked 28th in fantasy points per week ahead of notable guys like Dez Bryant, Michael Crabtree, Sidney Rice, and Johnny Knox
  5. Ranked 22nd in targets per routes run with 20%

Again, despite all these rankings in only his second NFL season and first full season as a starter, Mike Thomas is still being drafted after WR#35 and often in the WR#40 range.  That doesn’t make sense for a guy who’s the favorite to assume the #1 WR spot.  He belongs in the WR#25 range in PPR leagues based on the above.

Comparing Thomas to  “Similar” WRs

Many compare Mike Thomas to Steve Smith (CAR). If true, that would mean we can expect many seasons of 14-15 yards per catch and frequent down the field targets.  That being said, after watching a bit of Thomas in the NFL, he seems to be much more of a possession WR than Smith (CAR).  With that, I decided to compare him to both Percy Harvin and Steve Smith (NYG) to see two things: who Thomas has the most in common with and if Thomas performs better than all three of these players on the field to justify the current average draft positions.  Here’s what I analyzed:

Catch Distribution Comparison

2010 Behind LOS 0-9 yds 10-19 yds 20+ yds
Steve Smith (CAR) 20% 54% 17% 9%
Percy Harvin 24% 51% 17% 8%
Steve Smith (NYG) 2% 69% 21% 8%
Mike Thomas 21% 50% 14% 15%
2009*
Steve Smith (CAR) 14% 48% 25% 14%
2008*
Steve Smith (CAR) 11% 41% 28% 21%

*2010 was not a typical season for Steve Smith with Jimmy Clausen at QB, thus, I utilized the 2009 and 2008 numbers as comparisons as well.

Catch Percentage

2010 Receptions Targets Catch %
Steve Smith (CAR) 46 87 53%
Percy Harvin 71 104 68%
Steve Smith (NYG) 48 72 67%
Mike Thomas 66 99 67%

Yards per Target (YPT)

2010 Behind LOS 0-9 yds 10-19 yds 20+ yds
Steve Smith (CAR) 6.7 6.0 6.0 7.6
Percy Harvin 6.3 6.8 10.2 13.4
Steve Smith (NYG) 8.6 9.3 6.2 7.0
Mike Thomas 7.1 6.7 9.8 10.6

That’s a ton of information, so what does it all mean?  A few simple things:

  1. Thomas’ catch distribution is very similar to Percy Harvin’s, aside from 20+ yards.
  2. Thomas’ overall catch percentage and targets is consistent with Steve Smith (NYG) and Percy Harvin.
  3. Thomas’ 2010 catch distribution is very similar to Steve Smith’s (CAR), however, as compared to 2009 and 2008, almost 10% more of Smith’s catches are beyond 10 yards.
  4. Thomas’ catch as a percentage of targets beyond 20+ yards is similar to Smith (CAR) in ’09 (still not a typical Smith season as it was under 1,000 yards).
  5. Thomas’ catch as a percentage of targets beyond 20+ yards is smack in the middle between Smith (CAR) in ’08 (a more typical year from Smith) and Harvin/Smith in ’09.
  6. Thomas’ Yards per Target (YPT) over 10 yards is better than both Smith’s, but slightly worse than Harvin’s.
  7. Thomas’ YPT is most similar to Percy Harvin’s and just as good, except for the 20+ yard range.

In summary, this all shows that Thomas’ game appears to be a hybrid between Steve Smith (CAR) and Percy Harvin.  If that’s an indication of future production that means Thomas isn’t just going to be a long ball guy.  He’s likely to see his yard per catch number remain below 14, playing a role in the short range of less than 10 yards from scrimmage.  That’s good news for PPR owners.

Most importantly, these numbers show that Thomas is underrated, further supporting my analysis in the first section above.  His YPT numbers are better than Steve Smith (NYG) and slightly worse than Percy Harvin’s, but those players still drafted/ranked 7-10 WRs and 17-20 WRs earlier, respectively.  That’s a big difference.

Bottom line: Thomas is underrated with production similar to players drafted/ranked well above him and his production in PPR leagues is likely to be a Harvin/Smith (CAR) hybrid going forward should his current production continue.  We’re also talking about the #1 WR in Jacksonville in 2011 who produced like this in the #2 WR role.   With the probability of more targets, we can expect a better finish than WR#25.

Talk about a steal.

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