After he grabbed an NFL-record 196 passes in his first two seasons, why aren't we talking about Michael Thomas as one of the best wideouts in the game?
We should be, but the third-year New Orleans Saints receiver is disrespected by those tasked with making lists or ranking players. He came in at No. 81 overall on NFL Network's Top 100 Players list and was No. 13 overall among wide receivers. Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Jarvis Landry and Davante Adams were all ranked ahead of Thomas, which is a slight he should print and hang in his locker all season.
Why doesn't Thomas get the recognition he should?
"Honestly, I'm not exactly sure," he said. "I really hope it's one of those prove-it-a-little-longer type of things, since I've only been in the league for two years. But I don't worry too much about those type of things, because it's out of my control. I think it's a blessing in disguise at the end of the day because everything will have been earned and nothing will have been given to me.
"At the end of the day, when I hang them up and walk away from the game, I believe I will have earned all the respect and acknowledgment I could ever want. So I just kind of accept it for now, and I'll just keep making history and breaking records and let history be the judge of the rest. Regardless of how anyone feels, I know if I stay consistent and keep working hard, they won't be able to deny what I brought to the table.
"I have no doubt one day, not only will I get the respect, but I will be looked at by my peers as one of the best to ever do it. You play this game to be a champion and to be the best, and I work hard every day so I can accomplish both."
Some league insiders believe he's overlooked because he plays with a Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees, which inflates his production. Others say he's overshadowed by Alvin Kamara and Brees in his own offense. But one NFC defensive backs coach said, "I don't know anyone in our line of work overlooking him. He's already elite."
The term "elite" is overused at times, but it applies when talking about Thomas. In his two NFL seasons, he has more catches than all but three players—Landry, Antonio Brown and Larry Fitzgerald—and he's fourth overall among wideouts and tight ends in receiving yards over that span, too.
Based on the numbers, Thomas is already one of the NFL's top receivers, but many in the Saints organization think he's ready to challenge for the title of best in the game.
"We saw him come in after the draft and people were like, 'Holy f--k. He's bigger, faster, stronger,'" a source with the Saints said. "A lot of guys work out over the break. He works over the break. The only thing that'll hold him back is a potential injury."
When asked about his goals for the 2018 season, Thomas had one thing in mind.
"I want to win, man, and I want to win now. I honor my quarterback so much and have so much respect for him, and that goes for all my teammates. But Drew and I, we have a special relationship. I want to get him and this organization back to the top. They deserve it, we deserve it. He is the greatest to me—him and Sean, they are geniuses—and they set the bar really high for this organization. I love it. So I take a lot of pride in this offense because I know those guys are all-in, and me playing at a high level only makes our chances higher of reaching that goal.
"I want to be back in Minnesota in the playoffs and just do more. I live for those moments. I like get a rush. And once you have played on those big stages, you know the only focus is to win; the rest will follow and take care of itself. I know those goals don't just come overnight. It's a grind, but it's worth it. There are steps we must take first to get back to the playoffs, like take care of the division. But I believe you must know where you're headed before you arrive there. This will be a special year."
Thomas' actions have spoken. His work over the offseason has become almost mythical when talking to players he's trained with and those who know him well off the field.
"He's a maniac," one teammate said.
Thomas, who came into the NFL listed at 212 pounds, is now rumored to be up to 220 pounds but with a completely different frame. He's already one of the league's best route-runners, but if he can add the size to be even more physical at the catch point, he'll become unstoppable in the Saints' quick-strike offense.
In the ways we measure players—stats, advanced stats, potential, impact—Thomas is near the top in every category. Fantasy football fans are well-aware of his value, and NFL coaches and defensive backs are already worried about stopping him and the versatile Saints offense this year.
Thomas' work ethic, drive and natural gifts make him a favorite not only to become one of the NFL's most dangerous weapons, but eventually to become the league's best receiver.
Larry Fitzgerald will turn 35 at the end of August. Antonio Brown just turned 30 and is nearing a point when most receivers start to slow down. Odell Beckham Jr. hasn't stayed on the field consistently. Thomas' top competition for the crown comes in his own division, as 29-year-old Atlanta Falcons wideout Julio Jones has become a top-tier player. Should injuries continue to slow down Beckham, it'll be a battle of the two big NFC South receivers for the No. 1 spot in the near future.
Thomas believes he'll edge Jones for that distinction.
"I was raised with the mindset of be the best or don't do it at all, and I thank my family for instilling that in me as a child. Even still today, they are my biggest motivation. They know what it took for me to get here, and I know all the sacrifices they made, so I carry that weight on my shoulders.
"The funny part is, I've always believed I would make it to this point and even further. If you've followed my story, you know I've always been super confident. Not because I'm cocky, but because I know I put in the work so that when I step out on the field, I don't think anyone can stop me from my destiny. Just pay attention to the things I tweet and the stuff I post on IG and other social media, it's kind of me telling everyone what's to come.
"Since my rookie year, my social media handle has been 'cantguardmike,' and I take pride in that. I don't think anyone can stop me when I'm out there. It's just me and the ball. It's a mindset. I take this game serious, and if I believe in myself, it doesn't matter what everyone else thinks."
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.