The regular-season MVP award typically goes to a quarterback from one of the teams that earns a postseason bye. Exceptions arise when some other player does something historic.
Saints receiver Michael Thomas is on pace to do something historic, and if he sets the single-season receiving record (he’s on pace for 150 catches, seven more than the record) that could lead to another historic achievement: The first receiver to be named NFL MVP.
Saints coach Sean Payton sees it as a very real possibility.
“It starts with you’ve got to win,” Payton recently told #PFTPM. “Here are the things we know — you’ve got to be a winning team. You’ve got to be, generally speaking, having success and he’s been a huge part of that for us. And then you have to have production, and he’s on pace to have more production at that position than anyone in the history of the game. And, lastly, our Super Bowl champion just had the MVP at receiver, so there’s no reason that can’t happen relative to the length of the season.”
Payton is referring to Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, the Super Bowl LIII MVP. Sometimes, a receiver wins the Super Bowl MVP award over his quarterback; it’s harder for a receiver to do that over the course of a full season, since usually when a receiver is in the conversation his quarterback has done enough to be in the conversation as well. This year, however, the five-game injury to Drew Brees gives Thomas a clear shot at the prize.
To get there, the Saints need to be one of the top seeds in the NFC, which is looking likely at this point. And Thomas needs to keep catching passes at the same rate. He likely will.
“I would say his physicality at the release, or at the top of routes depending on how you choose to play him,” Payton said regarding his star receiver’s best attributes. “If you’re going to press him, boy he is extremely physical at the line of scrimmage and if you’re going to play off, he’s going to be explosive at the top end of routes I think he has strong hands in traffic. Those would be just a few things, and his run after the catch ability is exceptional.”
Thomas also has value in how he carries himself among his teammate.
“[T]hey see how he practices and see the preparation,” Payton said. “He’s probably his own worst critic by far. He can get hard on himself at practice, but every rep is so important to him. Starting with the beginning of the week walk through. He’ll ask great questions, and all the way up to game time, there’s just a standard that he wants to play to and that he’s comfortable with and that’s kind of how he plays, too, with a chip on his shoulder.”
It may be enough to get him a trophy on his mantle, one that no receiver ever has won. Even if he doesn’t actually win it, he needs to be mentioned far more often than he currently is.