Some football fans would have you believe that Michael Thomas only runs slant routes and nothing else.
They’ve convinced themselves that this is true. These people have even created memes to spread the word across social media platforms like an army of truthers with an undying need to educate the world.
This narrative isn’t real, but what if it were? Is that even a knock on someone? Given how good Thomas is on slants and the fact that no one can stop him on it, one could argue the Saints don’t use it enough.
Thomas has been targeted 118 times on slants throughout his career and caught 97 of them for 988 yards. That’s an 85 percent success rate, which should typically be replicated as often as possible, but it doesn’t make sense here because the Saints wide receiver is so good at so many other things. He’s caught 82.5 percent of all targets the last two seasons.
Here’s the thing: You can take every slant away from Thomas last season, and the year still ends with him leading the league in both receptions and yards.
So, what happens if you take away Thomas’ top two routes? Top three?
What if you do the same thing to the other players who round out the top five in receiving yards?
Let’s find out.
149 catches, 1725 yards
Slants: 32 catches, 310 yards
Out: 27 catches, 279 yards
Thomas has been among the league’s best on these two routes since entering the league. The only real surprise here is that the curl, a route Thomas has dominated with for years, ranked third on his list.
If you erase slants and outs from the Saints receiver’s totals, he would have finished with 1,136 yards. This total would have placed him 16th last year, right behind Oakland tight end Darren Waller (1,145 yards) and ahead of the Rams’ Robert Woods (1,134).
Take the curl (238 yards) out, and Thomas falls to 898 yards, which would put him behind Seattle’s D.K. Metcalf (900) and ahead of Emmanuel Sanders (869). So, with 33 percent of the route tree gone, Thomas would have finished 35th in the NFL in receiving yards.
Let’s keep this going for added perspective. Thomas gained 238 yards on corner, post and go routes last year. Knock those off of his stats, and Thomas would have been a top-60 receiver with 66 percent of the route tree erased – and he still would have led the Saints’ wide receivers in yards.
(Note: All stats are from Sports Info Solutions)
99 catches, 1394 yards
Curls: 22 catches, 264 yards
In: 13 catches, 199 yards
Jones does more stuff down the field than Thomas, but the bulk of his production comes on shorter routes – just like every other elite wide receiver who isn’t strictly a deep threat.
Jones had more of his overall production on his top route (18.9) than Thomas (17.9), which kind of hurts the narrative about Thomas running up the score with one route.
We’re also quickly establishing how big of a hit it can be to take away someone’s best weapons. With the curl and in routes off the board, Jones falls to 931 yards, which would have ranked 32nd last year. Take the go route (152 yards) away, and Jones falls to 42nd in yards with 779.
86 catches, 1,333 yards
Out: 18 catches, 223 yards
In: 10 catches, 208 yards
Godwin’s total falls to 902 yards with his top two routes taken away.
It will be interesting to see how Godwin’s production changes with Tom Brady taking over in Tampa Bay. The wide receiver was so good on seam routes last year, catching seven for 171 yards, last season. Will the Bucs’ offense change next year? Will those routes now be run by tight end Rob Gronkowski?
Godwin should get his numbers, and he’s quickly established himself as one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, but he might have to go about things a little differently moving forward.
97 catches, 1,229 yards
Curl: 21 catches, 223 yards
Dig: 14 catches, 171 yards
The tight end’s yardage total would drop to 835 without curl and dig routes.
If Jared Cook starts the season the way he finished 2019, he could close the gap a bit on Kelce. The Saints tight end averaged 67.1 yards per game during the final eight weeks of the year. Spread over a whole season, that’s good for 1,074 yards.
Not Kelce’s level, but also not bad.
72 catches, 1,202 yards
Post: 6 catches, 155 yards
Curl: 15 catches, 140 yards
Parker found himself in Thomas’ crosshairs this week. The Miami receiver responded to a question by saying it is harder to catch a pass against Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore than break up a pass intended for Thomas. Thomas took issue with the statement and let Parker know.
The funny thing is, Parker torched Gilmore for 119 yards on seven catches during the season finale last year and was probably the only player to have success against the defensive player of the year. The receiving performance was impressive, and it capped a season in which Parker finally got on track after a slow start to his career.
The interesting thing here is that Parker was less dependent on his top two routes than many of the others on this list. He only drops to 907 yards without his top routes.
This conversation is, and always has been, pointless. If you take away the best thing any player does, his production is going to drop. Thomas has a comparable level of dependence on his top route as the other guys on this list.
We’ll see in time if anything changes about what routes he continues to succeed with once Drew Brees steps away and if the offense changes. Best guess is that Thomas keeps this going the way it has been for a long time.