Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

19 Jan 2017

Michael Thomas and the Rookie Wide Receiver DYAR Record

by Vincent Verhei

A few weeks ago, when we published our Quick Reads Year In Review, we focused primarily on the good records set by rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, and the bad records set by fellow first-year passer Jared Goff. Our concentration on those two, though, was so intent that we missed the record set by another rookie.

Michael Thomas was drafted by the New Orleans Saints late in the second round (47th overall) last spring. We were lukewarm about the Ohio State product's chances this year, projecting him to finish with 600 yards in Football Outsiders Almanac 2016. We noted that Thomas would be replacing the retired Marques Colston, then wrote: "It’d be foolhardy to project a rookie to do what Colston did at his peak, but he can definitely do more than Colston did last year."

We were right about one thing: Thomas definitely did more than Colston's 67 catches, 520 yards, and four touchdowns in 2015. We were very wrong, though, about Thomas falling short of Colston's peak. Thomas had 97 catches for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns last year; Colston's career bests in each category were 98 catches, 1,202 yards, and 11 touchdowns, all set in his second year in 2007.

Further, only one rookie wideout ever caught more passes than Thomas did last year: Anquan Boldin, who had 101 with the Cardinals in 2003. Thomas' yards and touchdowns were also among the top 20 rookie numbers of all time. It all looked like a very good year on a very good offense, but on the surface not anything that we had never seen before.

What we didn't realize, though, was that Thomas had done all this on just 121 targets. That gave him a catch rate of 76 percent, second-best of the 93 qualifying wide receivers this season. Dallas' Cole Beasley was first at 77 percent, but Thomas averaged 12.4 yards per catch, compared to Beasley's 11.1.

Put all that together and you get 429 receiving DYAR, and that's not just the second-best for a wide receiver this year, it's the best of any rookie wide receiver we have ever measured, just slipping ahead of Randy Moss' 428 DYAR in 1998.


Most Receiving DYAR, Rookie Wide Receivers, 1989-2016
Name Team Year Passes Catches Yards TD Catch % Rec FUM DPI DPI Yards Rec DYAR
M.Thomas NO 2016 121 92 1,137 9 76% 2 2 35 429
R.Moss MIN 1998 124 69 1317 17 56% 1 4 161 428
O.Beckham NYG 2014 130 91 1305 12 70% 0 4 71 396
M.Clayton TB 2004 122 80 1196 7 66% 0 4 26 389
K.Allen SD 2013 104 71 1053 8 68% 1 2 15 343
A.Green CIN 2011 115 65 1057 7 57% 0 7 152 288
L.Evans BUF 2004 75 48 843 9 64% 1 1 9 284
M.Colston NO 2006 115 70 1039 8 61% 0 2 20 258
A.Boldin ARI 2003 165 101 1377 8 61% 2 3 36 249
T.Lockett SEA 2015 69 51 664 6 74% 0 0 0 249
C.Chambers MIA 2001 90 48 883 7 53% 0 2 40 247
A.Gonzalez IND 2007 51 37 576 3 73% 0 3 53 239
M.Wallace PIT 2009 72 39 756 6 54% 1 2 56 229
M.Evans TB 2014 123 68 1051 12 55% 0 2 48 222
A.Collie IND 2009 90 60 676 7 67% 0 4 70 218
C.Sanders HOIL 1995 87 35 823 9 40% 0 6 174 213
S.Holmes PIT 2006 86 49 824 2 57% 0 2 20 209
D.Bowe KC 2007 118 70 995 5 59% 0 1 11 207
K.Stills NO 2013 51 33 644 5 65% 0 1 37 206
F.Barnett PHI 1990 69 36 721 8 52% 0 1 12 204
J.Matthews PHI 2014 103 67 872 8 65% 0 1 40 194

Though Thomas had more receiving DYAR than Moss, Moss also had 2 rushing DYAR for his one carry for 4 yards in 1998. Therefore, Moss' total DYAR record of 430 is still the rookie wide receiver benchmark. Really, though, the difference between Thomas and Moss is so slight that Moss could easily wind up in first place if we adjust the DVOA formula in the future. The margin is so thin we could just say Thomas and Moss are tied for first place.

Regardless, this is a pretty impressive list of names. Moss is a Hall of Fame-caliber player, and Anquan Boldin and A.J. Green are close. Odell Beckham and Mike Evans have been very effective in the early stages of their careers; so has Keenan Allen, when he has been healthy. Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace, Fred Barnett, and Colston each had long, productive careers. There are a few one-hit wonders, though, most notably Michael Clayton -- second in the league in DYAR as a rookie, but then never any higher than 66th after that.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 19 Jan 2017

10 comments, Last at 25 Jan 2017, 10:04pm by Raiderjoe

Comments

1
by DrunkenOne :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 4:00pm

What we didn't realize, though, was that Colston had done all this on just 121 targets. That gave him a catch rate of 76 percent, second-best of the 93 qualifying wide receivers this season. Dallas' Cole Beasley was first at 77 percent, but Thomas averaged 12.4 yards per catch, compared to Beasley's 11.1.

"Colston" should be "Thomas"

3
by Vincent Verhei :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 6:16pm

Fixed. Thank you.

2
by MilkmanDanimal :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 4:03pm

Michael Clayton is one of those guys who liked football but liked cheeseburgers way more than he liked football.

7
by drobviousso :: Fri, 01/20/2017 - 2:27pm

I can't blame a guy for that weakness. Who among us doesn't love cheeseburgers?

4
by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 01/19/2017 - 8:36pm

a. Gonzalez what a tur d he was/

slept in hyperbaric chamber thinkgin career would last long. all it was was injuries and more injuries anmnd then craptasticness whehn he wasn't too kinjured to play

5
by BywaterBrat :: Fri, 01/20/2017 - 2:25am

Would be great to get a Film Room on him for those of us who could not bear watching the Saints this year.

6
by Eddo :: Fri, 01/20/2017 - 11:56am

Minor correction: Colston's second year was 2007, not 2004.

That said, I love when you guys publish smaller articles about DYAR and DVOA results like this.

8
by Tstuart1 :: Fri, 01/20/2017 - 3:20pm

It's interesting that Brees/Payton have three of these rookies on your list, colston, stills, Thomas.

Is there a way to expand your article to see is there are any correlates between qb and rookie wr and or coach? I'm just curious if there are qbs or coaches that can quantitatively be better matches for wr position. If so, that may be a series of articles and tie into draft prospects/predictions/best fits.

9
by andrew :: Mon, 01/23/2017 - 1:56pm

The other one that jumps out at me is Chris Sanders, who was on the last Houston Oilers team before their move to Memphis as a rookie. This was post Warren Moon era, pre Steve McNair era, under rookie head coach Jeff Fisher. The quarterback was Chris Chandler, a veteran who was capable (and would later lead the Falcons to a Superbowl).

His catch rate of 40% is by far the lowest on the list, no one else is below 52%. On those 35 catches he gained 823 yards, over 23.5 yards per catch, more than 3 yards per catch over anyone else (Barnett had 20.03, Stills 19.52, Wallace 19.38 and Moss 19.09). He also excelled in drawing DPIs, he had the most yards on the list with 174, again edging out Moss (161), and he was third in yards per DPI with 29, trailing only Moss (40.25) and Matthews (40), though Matthews only drew one DPI for 40 yards.

Fun trivia - if his wikipedia page is correct, Sanders holds the record for the lowest rushing yards total in the post NFL-AFL merger, with minus 36.

I

10
by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 01/25/2017 - 10:04pm

interesting game from that season was Oilers at Bengals. Oilers won 38-28. sanders 2 catches, 2 touychdiwns. jeff blake threw patented rainbow bomb to d. scott for touchdown. way I remember it both of sanders TDs were of bomb variety as well.