NFL

Bet the Over on Michael Thomas' Yardage and Touchdown Totals

New Orleans Saints' wide receiver Michael Thomas has been the talk of the town lately...for all the wrong reasons.

However, when Thomas is not pettily arguing with other players, random Twitterers, or threatening reporters, he's out on the field putting up huge stats. In 2019, Thomas led the league with a whopping 149 receptions and 1,725 receiving yards -- 45 and 331 more than the next closest wideout, respectively. Thomas' 149 receptions were the most ever by a player in a single season in NFL history. Not too shabby.

FanDuel Sportsbook has set Thomas' over/unders at 1404.5 for yards and 8.5 for touchdowns. For the record, he's had exactly nine receiving scores in three of his four seasons in the league.

The question is -- unless Thomas Tweets himself out of the league --, how should you bet those totals?

Targets Galore

Over the last three seasons, Thomas has garnered 149, 147, and, most recently, 185 (!!) targets. The 185 were the most in a season since Julio Jones saw an astonishing 203 in 2015.

The Saints signed Emmanuel Sanders to a two-year deal this offseason, and the veteran could take a bite out of Thomas' 31.8 percent target share that he saw last season. Though he's not the same player he once was, Sanders has totaled at least 92 targets in seven consecutive seasons. New Orleans didn't give him $10 million guaranteed to sit and look pretty.

Assuming that all of Sanders' targets will come at the expense of Thomas is probably unwise. According to Rotoworld, New Orleans has 72 targets vacated from 2019 -- most of them coming from Ted Ginn Jr.'s 56. Sanders should absorb a majority of those available looks.

Thomas could also lose some looks if the Saints choose to run more than they did in 2019. Here's a look at the team's pass-to-run splits over the last three seasons.

Pass Attempts Rushes Pass-to-Run Plays
2017 536 444 1.207 1000
2018 519 471 1.102 1010
2019 581 405 1.435 1011
Average 545.33 440 1.248 1007


In 2017-18, New Orleans had the services of Mark Ingram at their disposal, hence the pass-to-run ratios of 1.21 and 1.1. The Saints do have Latavius Murray, but his presence didn't prevent them from throwing 581 times in 2019 -- and they didn't add any significant bodies at the position in the 2020 offseason. Even if Sean Payton does elect to run more this season, it's unlikely they'll be able to revert back to their 2018 level.

Yardage

Now, let's assume the Saints do run more and Sanders chips away a bit at Thomas' target share. What would have to happen for the unders to hit? Here's a look at his per-target numbers for each season of his career.

Receptions per TgtYards per TgtTDs per target
20160.7609.3970.074
20170.6988.3560.034
20180.8509.5580.061
20190.8059.3240.049
Average0.7799.1590.054


If -- hypothetically -- Thomas' per-target numbers drop to his career-low numbers from 2017, he would still reach the over in yardage at 168.2 targets. Were he to produce at his career average -- which is skewed by his "poor" 2017 showing -- he would reach the over on 1404.5 receiving yards with 153.4 targets. If, however, his per-target numbers were an average of what he's done since 2018, he would reach the over in 148.8 targets.

If I were a betting man, I'd bet against him dropping below 150 targets in 2020.

Touchdowns

While the yardage total seems like an easier play, his scoring can be a bit more difficult to discern -- as it usually is with most players.

In order for Thomas to reach 9 scores at his career per target average, he'd need 166.7 targets. At 2019's per-target numbers, he'd need 183.7 targets. That being said, if he's able to score at a per-target rate of 0.06 -- a number he's topped in two of his four seasons -- he can do it in 150 looks. Certainly doable.

Over the last three seasons, the Saints have averaged 93.7 passes in the red zone (compared to 84 runs) -- on average, Thomas saw 21 (22.4 percent) of those always-valuable looks.

The Picks

In case I wasn't clear enough, I'm hammering the over (-112) on Thomas' 1404.5 yardage total. It's one of my favorite props.

As for the 8.5 receiving scores, I'm leaning towards him reaching the over (-130) -- though I'm notably less confident in that pick.

For what it's worth, numberFire projects Thomas for 1494.34 yards and 9.95 scores -- reaching the over in both categories.