The Bills offense drastically improved under Greg Roman in 2015, but there is no doubt that they would like to add some pieces to complement their weapons. A player that would add a whole new dimension to the offense is Wide Receiver Michael Thomas. Thomas has the size that Roman loves, he measured in at 6’3″, 209 pounds. The Ohio State Buckeye had to earn his way onto the field. He struggled early on in his college career, having trouble picking up the offense and maintaining his grades. So the transition to the NFL game may be a slow one.
In 2014, he led a National Championship team in receiving with 54 receptions, 799 yards and 9 TDs. But that season wasn’t a flash in the pan, he followed it up with another consistent season in 2015. He produced 56 catches for 781 yards and got into the end zone another 9 times. He’s not a “burner”, but his 4.57 forty time was a really good time for him. His greatest asset is his ability to separate through route running.
Lets face it, Greg Roman’s passing offense isn’t that diverse. There weren’t many plays last year where he schemed to get WRs open. Harvin and Watkins are physically gifted players who often get open due to their explosiveness. Thomas isn’t one of these guys. He is a Wide Receiver that gets open because of his clean footwork and savvy route running.
The Bills offense was a vertical passing game in 2015, Thomas would bring a new dimension that would help Tyrod Taylor’s development. In 2015, 36 of his 56 catches were from 1-10 yards according to Real Football Network (RFN). Not quite a stat to write home about but 70% of his catches were for first downs. That is better than the #1 WR Laquan Treadwell and #2 WR Corey Coleman. The kid just gets open, the QB had a 124.2 QB rating when they targeted him which was the 15th best in the nation. When you watch his clips, watch how subtle movements in his route get him open.
Take a look at some of his strengths:
Many scouts believe that Thomas can be a deep threat. He had a specific role as a chain mover in college. For explosive plays the team typically looked to Braxton Miller, but that doesn’t mean that Thomas can’t get be a vertical threat. His route running and ability to set up defenders really puts him in a league by himself in this draft. Take a look:
There aren’t many things not to like about Thomas. His run blocking was terrible in my opinion. Unlike Robert Woods, Thomas doesn’t show the drive or run blocking ability. Too often he barely made contact with the defender and I noticed him watching the run rather than executing his block far too often.
On the following play, he doesn’t stay on his block and his man makes the tackle. Wide receivers are critical to explosive plays in the run game.
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Watching the play….
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After watching several games of this Wide Receiver prospect, one corner held Thomas in check. Jordan Lewis, a cover corner from Michigan really held his own against Thomas. Thomas was targeted 5 times and only caught 2 balls for 50 yards. Most of those yards were on one deep ball. When Lewis pressed Thomas, the receiver struggled at times. It all came down to Thomas’ release at the line of scrimmage.
On this play, Thomas lets Lewis get his hand on him. Lewis is then able to plaster the WR down the field.
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Thomas is a superb in-breaking and comeback route runner. But due to QB play a lot of his film didn’t show many completed out-breaking routes.
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Thomas wins at the line of scrimmage, Lewis recovers well and the throw is off on the out route.
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If you look at Michael Thomas’ statistics you won’t come away thinking that this kid is first round talent. But the nephew of Keyshawn Johnson has the ability to separate due to his route running. A trait that is not often found nowadays with spread offenses. His routes are crisp, deliberate and executed cleanly. The kind of route running that west coast offenses absolutely love! He is a guy that can move the chains, not because he was schemed to get open but based on his technical route running. His explosive drive phase and shiftiness at the top of his route allow him to turn defenders around. Michael Thomas will need some time to adjust to reading coverages, so there will be growing pains. But there is no doubt that he has a high ceiling and could be the perfect #2 WR to Sammy Watkins.
Other prospects analyzed: