CLEVELAND -- The New Orleans Saints were confident wide receiver Michael Thomas would be a playmaker in an offense with a battle-tested quarterback like Drew Brees, and that is why they spent a second-round pick on him in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The former Ohio State Buckeyes standout has been a consistent target for Brees, and continues to deliver big plays, turning 212 receptions into 2,562 yards and 15 touchdowns with 42 plays going for at least 20 yards and 139 first downs.
“I think consistency, accountability,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said of why Thomas has been so successful. “He is always out there and he is making plays when the ball is thrown to him. The guy caught 16 of 17 targets. He catches the ball. He makes plays for that offense, and that is what you want.
“That is what you need at receiver in order for whoever to feel comfortable with you. Then, he makes uncommon plays. Whether it is a catch or it is a broken tackle, he just makes those plays for the offense, which I think is important.”
In a season-opening 48-40 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday, the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Thomas caught 16 passes for 180 yards, an average of 11.3 yards per reception, with one touchdown, a long play of 35 yards and seven first downs.
The 16 receptions were a Saints franchise single-game record.
“Obviously, I have a lot of trust and confidence in him,” Brees said in a conference call with the Cleveland media earlier this week.
“That is just the way that the game went. If you look at all of our games, we spread the ball around quite a bit. It is hard to kind of key on one guy. It just happened to be one of those games where I think he was in the right position at the right time and was getting those opportunities.”
During his first two seasons with the Saints, Thomas turned 92 and 104 passes into 1,137 and 1,245 yards, respectively. After catching nine touchdown passes as a rookie in 2016, Thomas hauled in five scores last season and helped the Saints advance to the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
Thomas hauled in 18 and 22 passes of 20 or more yards with 62 and 70 first downs during his first two seasons in New Orleans.
While Thomas makes the plays, Jackson believes the success is rooted in the relationship Brees has with his teammates.
“It is special,” Jackson said. “Obviously, the guy was targeted 17 times last week and caught 16 balls. They have a special relationship. It is not just him. It is (Alvin) Kamara. It is Ted Ginn Jr. It is all of them. They play at a pace where the defense has to account for every last one of those guys, but those guys are really good players.
“I think a lot of it is Drew, too, in the sense that he does not hold the ball very long. The ball gets out. The offensive line obviously has to take some credit, too, because they are trying to protect him. I think they protect him at all costs.
“They understand who their quarterback is, and as an offensive lineman, you want to make sure that guy is always upright because you have a chance to win. I think he protects them by getting the ball out of his hands, too.”
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