Saints receiver Michael Thomas might own all of New Orleans’ significant rookie receiving records after the final two games of the regular season.
How much that matters to him is difficult to discern, because he’s clearly not comfortable making a big deal out of it.
“All that stuff will take care of itself,” said Thomas, who'll line up against Tampa Bay on Sunday. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to win games here.
“Drew Brees breaks a record almost every game, and he never talks about records,” Thomas added. “So, I’d rather just fall in that line. … If I keep my head down and focus on winning games, even bigger stuff will happen.”
With 76 catches for 883 yards and eight touchdowns, Thomas leads NFL rookies in all three categories – meaning the second-round draft choice, 47th overall out of Ohio State, is out-producing the five receivers drafted ahead of him: Cleveland’s Corey Coleman, Houston’s Will Fuller, Washington’s Josh Doctson (injured early this season), Minnesota’s Laquan Treadwell and the New York Giants’ Sterling Shepard.
With seven catches and a touchdown at Arizona last Sunday, Thomas set the Saints’ franchise rookie record for receptions and tied the mark for rookie TD catches also reached by Marques Colston in 2006 and Dante Stallworth in 2002.
Colston’s 1,038 yards receiving in 2006 remains New Orleans’ rookie record in that department – for now.
When the Saints drafted the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Thomas, the hope was that he would be a good fit at the same receiver spot – also known as the “X” receiver – where the 6-4 Colston set just about every franchise receiving record there is.
Stylistically, Thomas is somewhat different than Colston in the ways he runs and catches, but in terms of his prominence in the offense, his ascension has practically mirrored the former Saints star he has replaced in the lineup.
“I feel like they’ve done it kind of in different ways and yet both have been highly productive,” said Brees, who was in his first year with New Orleans when Colston was a rookie.
“Mike’s that guy that – and I’d say for Marques, too – every week it’s like you’re just broadening the scope of what they can do.
“You’re able to put something else in the game plan for them that hasn’t been there in the past because they’re continuing to grow and learn and soak it all up, and that’s the exciting part is you feel like you’re just scratching the surface,” Brees added.
Saints coach Sean Payton said his staff and scouts had a good feeling about Thomas, whose uncle is former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson.
Payton said he’d spoken with Johnson about Thomas before last spring’s draft and the Saints liked Thomas’ size, hands and the way he competed with defenders for closely contested passes when he was with the Buckeyes.
Now that he’s had most of a season to coach Thomas, Payton has been impressed by the receiver’s ability to run after the catch – and after contact.
“He’s a gifted run-after-the-catch guy,” Payton said this week. “He does a good job of leveraging the corners and making it hard to tackle.”
Payton also praised Thomas as an intense practice player who tends to work on his route-running at full speed during walkthroughs, when most other players are essentially jogging (as they’re expected to do).
“Everyone will be in a walkthrough and Mike will be full speed, so when his route shows up on the other side of the field relative to everyone else who’s going maybe a quarter of the speed, it looks out of proportion,” Payton said. “It’s just real important to him.”
Payton also has said Thomas learns quickly and rarely repeats mistakes.
“It’s not too big for him as a young player,” Payton said. “He’s extremely confident and humble in a real way in really wanting to learn.
“Those are real good traits for a player at any position because they’re going to improve and they’re going to improve quickly and I think we’re seeing that daily.”
Tampa Bay at New Orleans
When: Saturday, 3:25 p.m.
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Radio: 870-AM, 105.3 FM