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Michael Thomas and Drew Brees were a perfect match, but No. 13 will be just fine without him

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Sure, Michael Thomas had a down year in 2020. His frustrating early-season injury derailed the entire campaign and it’s understandable for shot-callers around the NFL to have doubts, or at least curiosity, on where his career goes from here. But some of the reasoning relayed to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler in a survey ranking the league’s best wide receivers leaves something to be desired.

“Playing to his strengths means he needs an accurate quarterback, and Drew Brees is the most accurate quarterback in history,” one anonymous team executive told Fowler of Thomas, who was ranked No. 8. “Brees was perfect for him.”

The implication there is that Thomas will decline without Brees throwing to him. And it doesn’t hold up after a couple seconds of research. In 10 career games without Brees (not counting his early exit in 2019 Week 2 against the Rams, when Thomas went 10-of-13 for 89 yards, or the second half in 2020 Week 10 where Thomas finished 2-of-7 for 27 yards) Thomas totaled 77 receptions for 923 yards.

That averages out to 7.7 catches and 92.3 receiving yards per game, and extrapolates over 16 games to 123 receptions for 1,476 yards. Only Stefon Diggs beat those numbers last year (127 catches and 1,535 yards). And remember, there are 17 regular season games now. For the curious, Thomas has clocked 7.3 receptions and 85.0 receiving yards per game in his career. Those numbers went up — however slightly — with Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill throwing to him.

Also, for the hand wringing about how well Thomas benefited from Brees’ prolific accuracy — his completion percentage jumped up to 80.2% in those 10 games without Brees compared to his career catch rate of 77.6%. Raw percentages like that aren’t the best measure of accuracy or a receiver’s sure hands, but it’s something to think about.

Maybe Thomas isn’t able to recover from this ankle injury. Maybe, despite this evidence to the contrary, he isn’t as successful with Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston or someone else as he was with Brees. But there’s ample evidence to suggest his career arc is ready to snap back up and continue its great trajectory. Anyone writing him off right now hasn’t done their homework.

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