New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas made history last season. His 149 receptions in 2019 set an NFL record, while he also led the league—and put up one of the top totals of all time—with 1,725 receiving yards. Thomas made another bit of history as well, when he was named Offensive Player of the Year, becoming the first wide receiver to win the award since Jerry Rice did so in 1993.
Wide receiver is a position that is often left out of major awards. It had been nearly three decades since one had won OPOY before 2019, and never before has a receiver been named MVP. More kickers have won NFL MVP than wide receivers. Thomas may have broken the seal for the position, though. With receivers finally being regarded as more important than running backs, they may finally start to get the award recognition they’ve long been denied.
That is where Kenny Golladay comes in. The Detroit Lions wide receiver has been on a tear since the day he debuted in the NFL back in 2017, but in 2019 he truly made a leap to join the NFL’s elite. Golladay set career highs with 1,190 yards and an NFL-leading 11 touchdowns. He was efficient as well, averaging 18.3 yards per pass he caught. All of this is even more impressive when you consider that Matthew Stafford was absent for the second half of the season.
Golladay is one of the best wide receivers in the league, meaning he has an off-chance to steal an OPOY honor in 2020 if the chips fall in the right places. He can benefit a lot from Michael Thomas’ victory, as now there is a precedent as to what a receiver has to do in the modern age to win the award.
Path to OPOY
Golladay will have a hard time getting to the 149 reception mark that Thomas did. Detroit has more options around the field than the Saints do, and they are a team who still does love to run the ball a ton. Thomas also got to play with a backup quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater for part of the season, helping him outshine the team’s starting quarterback. Where Golladay may lack in receptions, he can make up for in touchdowns.
The Lions receiver is incredibly efficient, averaging six yards per reception than Thomas. He is one of the league’s top deep threat, and he can do in 100 receptions what a player like Thomas can do in 150. More deep receptions means more potential touchdowns as well.
If Golladay is to receive consideration for the award, there are certain thresholds he will need to meet. He will need to shatter his career high by catching at least 100 passes—this is the toughest mark to hit. He will also need to rack up a ton of yards, like enough to approach all-time marks set by the likes of Antonio Brown and Calvin Johnson Jr. That would require at least getting into the 1,800s in yardage. Touchdowns will be important as well if the reception number isn’t there. Expect Golladay to need to lead the league with at least 13 touchdown receptions.
More important than anything will be narrative. The Detroit Lions offense will need to become a juggernaut, and Golladay will somehow have to become the face of it — instead of Stafford. This will require a ton of highlight catches for Golladay, it would require Stafford to have an unusually low passing yardage total despite Golladay’s high total to make sure the receiver accounts for a large share of offensive production, it would also require some wins.
Like all of the other awards, Detroit will likely need to win at least 10 games and make the playoffs for their players to receive consideration. While the receiver is fairly well respected across the league, the fact that he did not even earn a spot on the NFL 100 list this year despite leading the NFL in receiving touchdowns in 2019 shows that he still has a long way to go before he receiver league wide recognition.
It’s a long shot, but if Detroit makes a full turn around in 2020, and Golladay becomes the face of it, he may have a real chance at snagging the award.