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Historical Comps for Michael Thomas’ Rookie Season

How does Michael Thomas’ rookie season compare to other recent rookies, and how do those comps inform our expectations going forward?

If you’ve been around RotoViz for any length of time, you know we like making range of outcome-based projections. And we’ve got a fantastic Screener to facilitate that. My goal is to set some expectations for the 2016 rookie wide receivers.

To do that, I set the Screener to find rookies from 2010 – 2016, and selected some basic production and usage numbers as variables. I also included draft pick. The influence of draft pick on a player’s opportunity declines over time, but it’s still relevant heading into a player’s second season. Then I asked the Screener to find seasons comparable to my target player.1 Up next, Michael Thomas.

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(Ignore the ‘Michael Thomas’ at the bottom of the table; that’s the LA Rams player.)

Well that’s impressive. Four of Thomas’ top-five comps were drafted earlier than him, which I think is a good sign. I’ll assume you don’t need me to say much about how solid those comps are. As second-year players, these comps averaged 15.1 PPR points per game, and for their non-rookie careers they’ve averaged 17.8 points per game.

Pros

Thomas was an effective target for Drew Brees, both relative to his teammates and in raw terms.

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Thomas also led his team in targets, which is impressive for a rookie, especially since all of his target competition came from veterans. Further, he plays for one of the most pass-heavy teams and is connected to one of the league’s elite QBs.

Cons

Relative to the other 2016 rookie WRs, Thomas doesn’t really have any. Perhaps the only thing to be mildly concerned about is Thomas’ volume and efficiency.

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In raw terms, Thomas was targeted more frequently than either his fellow rookies or fellow Saints WRs. (Brandin Cooks and Corey Coleman are within a target per game.) In terms of market share, several are in the same neighborhood, and Coleman boasts a higher number. Part of Thomas’ success was based on volume, and he’ll have competition both internally and from fellow second-year receivers in that regard. In fact, Thomas is arguably already at his target ceiling. Since 2010, no Saints pass catcher has had more targets than Jimmy Graham’s 149 in 2011. No WR has had more than Marques Colston’s 131 in 2010. With 121 as a rookie, there’s not a lot of volume for Thomas to add.

Looking at fantasy points over expectation per target (the final column), we see that Thomas was insanely efficient. His 0.47 mark ranks 19th out of 236 WR seasons since 2010.2 The average reFPOEPA for those seasons was just 0.1, and in year N+1 it was -0.06. Just 24 percent of these WRs improved their efficiency in year N+1. In other words, since efficiency isn’t very sticky, and he was super efficient last year, it’s very unlikely Thomas is as efficient next year. Add to that the fact that he doesn’t have a sizable advantage in market share over the Saints other WRs, and we could see him fall behind either Cooks or Snead.

Outlook

Again, all of that is relative. Even Snead was a top-35 PPR WR last year. Thomas may not fall off at all. But it’s difficult to expect one of the most efficient seasons of recent memory to be repeated. Nothing suggests, however, that Thomas shouldn’t be expected to earn a similar workload next year. He remains a premium dynasty asset, although I think there’s a good chance he doesn’t improve on his rookie numbers.

  1. The app provides 20 comparables, but I’m limiting myself to the top five. I’m also excluding fellow 2016 rookies from the comps.  (back)
  2. WRs with 100 or more targets in a season.  (back)

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