Michael Thomas breaks reception record: How Saints WR made history

Michael Thomas broke the single-season reception record in Week 16, in another performance that was a testament to his ability to succeed without separation.

Michael Thomas broke the single-season reception record in Week 16, with his achievement made all the more impressive by the lack of cushion and separation the New Orleans Saints wide receiver has been afforded throughout 2019.

Thomas surpassed Marvin Harrison’s mark of 143 receptions, set in the 2002 campaign, with a 12-catch performance that saw him rack up 136 yards and a touchdown. His outstanding display qualified Thomas for a Pro Football Network Offensive Share Metric (OSM) grade of 32.98.

OSM measures a player’s contribution to his offense’s production by using a series of algorithms and NFL’s NextGen Stats to assess the factors only he could control. Thomas’ grade indicates a “very good” level of performance and is reflective of just how dominant he was in New Orleans’ 38-28 triumph.

As a bonafide superstar at wideout, Thomas receives plenty of respect from opposing defenders, and he has deservedly developed a reputation as one of NFL’s elite players at the catch point. However, there is so much more to Thomas’ game. He does an outstanding job of creating separation with his route-running and has no difficulty making players after the catch. Still, it is his remarkable ability to adjust to the football and make contested grabs that is often the difference.

That was the case in Week 16 as Thomas hauled in pass after pass despite averaging just 4.3 yards of cushion and only 2.2 yards of separation versus the Titans, according to NextGen Stats. For the season, Thomas has averaged 5.2 yards of cushion and 2.6 yards of separation.

The close attention the Titans paid Thomas made no difference, and the warning signs were there in the first quarter. On this seven-yard completion from Drew Brees, Thomas superbly contorted his body to haul in a low throw and avoid hits from two defenders that could have forced the ball free.

It was a completion as much down to Thomas’ concentration as it was to his flexibility, and he was rewarded for his focus again in the third quarter, surviving Kevin Byard’s attempt to knock him off his path and elevating for 26 yards on third down.

That drive eventually ended in a one-yard plunge from Alvin Kamara to put the Saints up 24-14. Thomas, though, caught the clinching score, hauling in a two-yard pass moments after breaking the record. He only needed half a step on Logan Ryan, with the critical point in the play coming when Thomas bent his route upfield to adjust to the velocity Brees put on the throw.

Body control, concentration, and intelligence all play a significant role in Thomas’ ability to win regularly at the catch point despite not always being able to put daylight between himself and defenders. Thomas is rarely given space in which to operate, but he is widening the gap over his receiving contemporaries in cementing his position as the gold standard at the position.

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