Michael Thomas isn't fast enough.
He's not a burner.
He can't win deep.
He might not create enough separation with his route running.
The knocks made against the Saints wide receiver entering the league look idiotic in hindsight. People raced to draw conclusions based on his 4.57 40-yard dash time, and even though he has compiled the greatest four-year credentials of all time for a wide receiver, Thomas still falls victim to lazy analysis. But if you watch him play and study his process, you already know he plays faster than his 40 time.
Quantifying this observation isn't easy because anecdotal evidence is faulty. You can look at Thomas' fourth-quarter reception against the Tennessee Titans, the one where he puts Logan Ryan on his backside while cutting toward the middle of the field on a crossing route, and know he runs his routes a little bit differently than anyone else.
Was this play an outlier or one of many examples of Thomas punishing defensive backs? I decided to find out – or at least make an attempt toward quantifying this observation.
To accomplish this goal, I reviewed all 185 passes thrown to Thomas last year and measured the peak level of separation he created on each play. Other stats will tell you how open a player is at the time of throw or catch. This is a little bit different. I went through and measured the highest level of separation Thomas achieved on each target, which can occur at various points before or between the throw and catch.
Here is what I figured out: