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|
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.