Mike Thomas might be the very definition of underrated after going from rising star in Jacksonville to afterthought in Detroit to not playing at all last season after being released by the Cardinals.
In the 2010 season with Jacksonville that I mentioned earlier, Thomas led the Jaguars in both receptions and receiving yards. Since posting 66 receptions for 820 yards that year, Thomas has a total of just 62 receptions for 523 yards over the following three seasons.
After traveling through the desert during 2013 and missing the season, Thomas signed with the Texans as a free agent in December—before the Texans had even hired Bill O'Brien. There are low expectations, then there are even lower expectations for players signed on a reserve/future contract like Mike Thomas.
Teams obviously don't sign a guy who was a free agent for the entire season with the expectation of him becoming a starting player.
Coach O'Brien appeared to share those low expectations early on before the team got on the field when he said before the draft that the team didn't have any good options at slot receiver.
From State of the Texans, once the team did get on the field, O'Brien quickly changed his mind on the position and the veteran Mike Thomas.
I did say that and now being out here for a few days, including our coaching sessions, there are a few guys, including Mike, that have the skill set to play in the slot and to play outside. That’s why these camps are good.
If Mike Thomas does win the job of being the Texans' slot receiver, it's a role that others have excelled in under Coach O'Brien. Thomas is well aware of the success of others like Wes Welker in this offense as the slot receiver according to CSN Houston.
You have guys … you know, Wes Welker was obviously a big part of that and (Danny) Amendola (who played his first season in New England last year) and some of the other guys. They use pretty much anybody they can find in New England to get the job done. So I definitely have had that thought and have looked at it and imagined.
Under Bill O'Brien in 2011, Wes Welker put up totals of 122 receptions for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns; Thomas won't come close to those numbers. However, as the Texans' likely fourth-option—Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins and Garrett Graham will receive more targets—I don't see any reason why he couldn't equal the numbers posted by the Patriots' fourth-option in 2011 under O'Brien.
Deion Branch finished the 2011 season with 51 catches for 702 yards; I would take those numbers right now for Thomas if given the option.
Keshawn Martin—the Texans' primary slot receiver over the last two seasons—has only racked up a total of 32 receptions for 338 yards over his first two years in the NFL and at this point has to be considered a disappointment. Thomas did better than that two-year total in just one season in 2011, which was a down year for the former Jaguar.
The previous regime under former coach Gary Kubiak treated the slot receiver position as just another receiver with whomever happened to be the third receiver on the depth chart manning the position. According to Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com, Bill O'Brien views the position differently and will treat the slot receiver as its own position with a unique and special skill set requirement.
It is a totally different position. On the inside I would say it is very important to be quicker than fast sometimes. Obviously a very smart and instinctive player because it moves a lot faster on the inside with different bracket coverages, one-on-one coverages and different leverages that they see, things that they see at the snap of the ball that maybe they didn’t see when they broke the huddle.
In my opinion, those attributes listed by Coach O'Brien all describe Mike Thomas more than the other receivers in the competition like Keshawn Martin, Alan Bonner and DeVier Posey. Bonner fits the skill set well but has no NFL experience and will likely start the season as a reserve if he makes the roster.
The signing of Mike Thomas most likely went largely unnoticed by Texans fans because it came at the end of the most miserable season in team history and Thomas didn't even make a roster for the 2013 season.
By now, you should be well aware of where Thomas stands with the current Texans roster. At the end of the season, Texans fans will call his signing a huge steal.