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Meet Mike Thomas, Southern Miss’ Sleeper WR Prospect

Do you suppose there are 101 other wide receiver prospects in the 2016 draft class who could make this catch?

The reason I ask is because Southern Miss receiver Mike Thomas is currently the 102nd ranked wide receiver prospect for the 2016 draft according to CBS Sports.

Obviously one catch doesn’t mean anything, but doesn’t it make you want to learn more about this small school dynamo? After his massive performance in the bowl game against Washington,1 I went back to dig deeper into the Mike Thomas file; what I found led me to believe that he is a vastly underrated playmaker. Let’s take a look at his résumé.

The Backstory

If this is your first time hearing about Mike Thomas, I wouldn’t be surprised. In fact, almost everyone in the college football world was slow to wake up to his talent. After a fabulous high school career in the Chicago area, Thomas started his journey to the NFL at the College of Dupage in 2012. He then played at Dodge City Community College in 2013. I’ll wait a second while you Google those institutions.

Ultimately, his play at Dodge City landed him an opportunity at Southern Mississippi, where he stepped in and immediately led the team in receiving yards in 2014. In that campaign, he hauled in 592 yards and five touchdowns, while accounting for 625 kick return yards and a touchdown (remember that there is hidden value in special teams stats). Where things get really interesting, however, is what Thomas did in 2015.

The Elite 2015 Production

Playing in 13 games this season, Mike Thomas hauled in a beastly 1,391 yards and 14 touchdowns, both of which ranked in the top seven of all FBS receivers. In market share terms, he accounted for 32 percent of his team’s yards and 38 percent of his team’s touchdowns. What’s most impressive to me though, and I touched on this last year with Devin Smith, is how effective Thomas has been on a per-target basis; in 2015 he gained an astonishing 11.7 yards per target. Going back to 2005 and looking at players with at least 80 targets in a college season, Thomas’ 11.7 YPT ranks in the top 20 of all FBS receivers over that time. Pretty damn impressive.

Looking for players with similar market share, yards-per-target success, age and body types, I came up with this comparable group. Note that I deliberately sought out players from the early-, middle- and late-rounds of the draft, in addition to an undrafted free agent.

WRDraft PickF AgeF Yds/GF YPTF MS Yds
Steve Smith USC5121.783.310.230.0%
Denarius Moore14822.181.813.131.1%
Stevie Johnson22421.480.110.428.1%
Allen HurnsUDFA22.189.411.234.0%
Mike Thomas SMTBD21.4107.011.732.0%

While I’m not sure any of these component metrics will blow you away, I think the package of per-target efficiency, raw production and market share production reveals a group of rock solid college players whose peak NFL performances probably exceed expectations. Specifically for Thomas, he might have benefitted from a slightly lower level of competition, but at the end of the day, I think he belongs in this cohort.

The Measurables

While we won’t know Thomas’ measurables until later in draft season – he’s listed at 6’1″, 200 lbs. – we can create targets for him based on the comparable group. I’ve cobbled together the workout results and created an average, which represents how Thomas would need to perform in order to be an athletically-comparable prospect.

Steve Smith USC71.81974.44381204.196.68
Denarius Moore731944.43361184.156.78
Stevie Johnson742104.5832.51214.267.07
Allen Hurns73.31984.55311204.507.23

It looks like Thomas already has the size and the other targets are about average for the position. What I think is ultimately the difference maker for these players is that they are athletic enough and have proven to be highly efficient on the field. And to be clear, we’re not talking about him being a WR1-type player, but I think he could be an outstanding complementary piece, if given an opportunity.

End Result

In closing, I believe that Mike Thomas is one of the most under-appreciated receiver prospects for the 2016 NFL Draft. If you like rooting for the underdog, this is a player you must follow over the coming months. Here’s a guy who has had to work for everything and continually improve as he climbed the collegiate ranks. He could be frighteningly good if he continues on this trajectory.

Here is some video from his games against Louisiana Tech and Washington in case you want to become more familiar with him.

Jon Moore is a contributor at RotoViz and a cohost of Rotoviz Radio – A Fantasy Football Podcast. Continue this conversation with him on Google+Facebook or Twitter.

  1. 9 receptions, 190 yards, 2 touchdowns  (back)

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