Don't Call Him 'The Other' Mike Thomas, Southern Miss WR Has Skills

Luke Easterling@@LukeEasterlingCorrespondent IMarch 13, 2016

Southern Mississippi wide receiver Michael Thomas (88) pulls in a pass reception over the defense of North Texas defensive back James Gray (21) in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Hattiesburg, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Southern Mississippi won 49-14. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

If you're an NFL team looking to add an impact receiver named Michael Thomas, don't fret if the Ohio State star comes off the board before your pick in the first round.

There's a man down in Hattiesburg who can do the job at a fraction of the cost.

It only takes a quick Google trip to find the first thing about Southern Mississippi wideout Mike Thomas that pleasantly raises an eyebrow: His elite production as a senior in 2015.

Thomas was a big-play machine for the Golden Eagles last season, racking up 1,391 yards on 71 receptions, with 14 of those catches going for touchdowns. He averaged 19.6 yards per catch, the highest mark of any FBS receiver with at least 65 receptions last year. Thomas topped 100 yards receiving in eight of his 13 games in 2015, catching a touchdown in 10 of them.

Now, since he hails from Southern Miss and Conference USA, some might be quick to explain away his ridiculous production by pointing to a lack of quality competition.

Thomas had officials raising their arms quite often in 2015, as he hauled in 14 touchdowns.
Thomas had officials raising their arms quite often in 2015, as he hauled in 14 touchdowns.Michael Noble Jr./Associated Press

Not so fast, my friend.

In his three games against Power Five conference teams, Thomas caught 18 passes for 344 yards and a pair of touchdowns, averaging 19.1 yards per catch. He topped off his impressive senior campaign with a dominant performance in a losing effort to Washington in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, hauling in nine passes for 190 yards and a pair of scores.

Even when Husky defenders bracketed Thomas with multiple defenders, his ability to track the deep ball and control his body made him nearly impossible to stop:

Luke Easterling @LukeEasterling

Watch USM's Mike Thomas track this ball: https://t.co/eHbUJW8HSR

Thomas' numbers from last season are certainly a sight to behold, but there are plenty of receivers who light up the stat sheet but don't exhibit a skill set that will translate successfully to the NFL level. Luckily for Thomas, he doesn't fall into that category.

It's easy to look at a receiver through the simple scope of size, speed and raw athletic ability. But you could fill scout's tattered legal pad with the names of receivers who can shine in pad-less drills and light up stopwatches, yet lack the intangibles that make a truly well-rounded receiver.

Thomas may not burn up the track or dominate opponents with freak athleticism, but he excels at the little things that routinely translate to NFL success at the receiver position. Matt Waldman, author of the annual Rookie Scouting Portfolio, took an in-depth look at these areas of Thomas' game in his RSP Film Room series with guest analyst Turron Davenport of USA Today's Eagles Wire:

Thomas may lack the elite measurables that typically make NFL scouts drool over a pass-catching prospect, but that doesn't mean he's not capable of highlight-reel moments. His jaw-dropping, one-handed touchdown catch against Louisiana Tech is a prime example (h/t Ashton Williams and Yahoo Sports' Dr. Saturday on Twitter):

Ashton Williams @22williams22

Very Odell Beckham'ish play by USM's WR Mike Thomas! TD EAGLES! #SMTTT #SCTop10 https://t.co/WbIqBc0oMQ

Dr. Saturday @YahooDrSaturday

Michael Thomas with an awesome one-handed catch to give Southern Miss a 21-3 lead against Louisiana Tech. https://t.co/D0R0jNYQFh

But even with the gaudy box scores and nuanced skill set, the powers that be didn't think Thomas merited an invite to this year's NFL Scouting Combine. Jon Ledyard of USA Today's Draft Wire was one of multiple draft analysts who were left scratching their head at Thomas being snubbed:

Jon Ledyard @LedyardNFLDraft

The way I look at the So. Miss WR Mike Thomas snub, the NFL thought there were 43 WRs better/that they would rather see than him. B.S.

He may not have gotten a combine invite, but Thomas is no stranger to taking the path less traveled to football success.

Thomas made stops at two different junior colleges before landing at Southern Mississippi. He began his collegiate career at the College of DuPage in Illinois and then made his way to Dodge City Community College in Kansas for his sophomore season.

Thomas hit the recruiting market again the following offseason, drawing interest from Power Five programs like Arkansas, Kansas State and Minnesota. But according to 247Sports, Thomas only received offers from Southern Miss and South Alabama, ultimately deciding to sign with the Golden Eagles.

The majority of draft projections have Thomas labeled as a late-round pick, a deep dive into his film reveals a player who could be one of the biggest steals of the entire draft. Thomas' proficiency in the finer points of player receiver will help him make a smoother transition to the pro game than many of his fellow rookies, and his experience as a return specialist will increase his chances of making an immediate impact.

So take your bigger, better-known Mike Thomases in the first round and your raw but freakish athletes on Day 2. But if you want the best value in this year's draft at the receiver spot, this Windy City native is the sleeping giant lurking in the later rounds.

Luke Easterling is a Featured Columnist who covers the NFL draft for Bleacher Report. He also covers the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @LukeEasterling.


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