In light of this Calvin Johnson news, I figured now is a better time than any to focus on the wide receiver situation. We don't know exactly when Johnson will retire yet, but we do know that he's aging and the Detroit Lions will need to find a replacement eventually. Scratch that, there is no replacing Calvin Johnson. Just like how no one will ever replace Barry Sanders. All you can do is hope that the next guy is half as good of a receiver as Megatron and you're in pretty good shape.
If Johnson decides to stay for at least one more year, then I don't believe that WR is a huge need for the Lions, but it is definitely a need, specifically on the outside. Let's face it, the Corey Fuller experiment hasn't worked out at all. The Lions need a deep threat opposite of Johnson, and possibly someone to fill his shoes in the near future. There is someone in this year's class that has completely flown under the radar that I absolutely love as a fit for the Lions. His name is Michael Thomas. Not the one most of y'all are thinking about, though. I'm talking about the Southern Mississippi product, Mike Thomas.
WR Mike Thomas (Southern Mississippi)
6-foot-1, 186 pounds
Not many draftniks are talking about Mike Thomas just yet, but that will soon change. He's an outstanding athlete with an immense amount of upside. I'm not talking about a guy like Corey Fuller who was basically chosen just because he's fast. Thomas has plenty of traits that will translate well to the NFL.
Body control and ball tracking
I had never even heard of Mike Thomas before I stumbled upon a Southern Miss/Louisiana Tech game earlier in the year. Then I saw a one-handed grab in the back of the endzone for a TD and I said "DAYUM, WHO IS THAT GUY?"
Thomas is only 6-foot-1, but his sheer athleticism and leaping ability makes him play like he's added an extra three or four inches. You can't teach that.
With a better throw, that's probably an easy touchdown for Thomas who clearly had at least two steps on the defender but was forced to slow down and catch it short of the goal line.
Thomas' ability to track the deep ball is sensational. Tracking the ball, adjusting to it in mid-air and maintaining the focus and concentration to haul it in is nowhere near as easy as it looks. This is the type of catch that I'd consistently see from DeVante Parker last year, who had some of the best body control I've ever seen from a WR. Thomas has a long way to go before he reaches Parker status, but these are the types of plays that get me excited about what he could develop into down the road.
Thomas is a good route-runner, but could also improve in some areas as well. I'll dive deeper into what Thomas needs to work on a bit later. For now, let's all marvel at this Vine together.
BAH GAWD, MICHAEL, THAT KID HAS A FAMILY.
This is just a pure, unadulterated nasty double-move that the CB had utterly no chance of stopping. Everything is run to perfection from the quick change of direction inside, to the subtle change of speed, and finally, the dagger.
Thomas has quick feet and great short area quickness, allowing him to consistently win on inside releases. This play below encompasses just about all of Thomas' top traits.
You'll miss it if you blink, so watch closely before Thomas takes his inside release. You'll see the quick jab to the outside which also forces the CB to move toward the sideline. At that point, Thomas has already won the battle and gets inside of the defender with ease. He gets so far inside that the defender is forced to lunge just to get his paws on Thomas and it has the reverse effect on the CB by slowing himself down in the process. With a better throw, that's probably a touchdown, but the underthrow also displays Thomas' ability to track the ball, adjust to it and time his jump to secure it for the first down.
Speed and YAC ability
Did I mention that Mike Thomas is going to test well? Southern Miss. often used Thomas as a kick returner, so there's some versatility to his game (although I didn't particularly believe that he was a very good returner). He has decent vision for a receiver along with great acceleration and top-speed.
Imagine a receiver with Corey Fuller type speed paired with the ability to actually do other wide receiver things. The possibilities are endless.
Areas of improvement
Thomas is a natural hands catcher, although he's also susceptible to the occasional concentration drop. I haven't seen more than a few drops from his film, but it's definitely something to monitor with combines and pro days coming up.
As a blocker, Thomas definitely needs to improve on his technique. I do love that he is a willing blocker, however. It's easier to teach a player how to block than to teach him how to want to block. Take this play for example.
To his credit, Thomas more than gets the job done here. He shows the desire to take his assignment out of the play and pushes him a good 8 yards down the field. However, you're not really allowed to give out hugs when blocking, and that's something I saw quite often with his technique, rather than getting his hands inside.
Thomas can also improve his draft stock by bulking up for the NFL. He looks pretty thin at 6-foot-1, 186 pounds, and could get out-muscled by NFL CBs. I'd also like to see him be more of a consistent route-runner. We saw his upside in that department with the double-move earlier, but there were a couple instances of him rounding off his cuts and also a poor sell-job on a curl route.
How He Fits
This one's simple. The Lions aren't in desperate need of a receiver just yet, but adding an outside deep threat to develop and play opposite of Calvin Johnson would be a great investment for the future of the franchise. There's also the point that Johnson might not be with the team for much longer. The Corey Fuller experiment was fun while it lasted, but I just don't see him turning into a serviceable receiver any time soon. He might not be with the team next year without Martin Mayhew on his side.
There aren't many draft folks talking about Mike Thomas yet, so I'm not sure where he's going to be selected, but I do believe that when it's all said and done, he'll be regarded as a Day 2 pick. Still, if the Lions can draft him even later on, that would be a massive steal. The guy is a playmaker, plain and simple.
Grade: 2nd-3rd round
Games Watched: 2015 vs. Washington, 2015 vs. Louisiana Tech, 2015 vs. Western Kentucky, 2015 vs. Nebraska