By: Michael J Gavin (Twitter: @MjGavMan)
Nuk vs. Michael Thomas
During the recent FFDynasty260 startup draft I was faced with a difficult decision at 1.09. I ultimately chose DeAndre “Nuk” Hopkins at 9. Michael Thomas, as expected, went with the next pick. After seeing the results of our first round, a colleague questioned the selection, asking “Not being critical of anyone, but taking Hopkins over Thomas?” After I calmed from someone daring to question me, I thought the process of how I selected Nuk may be of interest. For reference, the league is setup as a basic 12 team PPR. If you have been preparing for a startup, you probably know that 9 is the drop off point, but just so you know where I am coming from, the first 8 picks fell like this:
1.01 – Odell
1.02 – Evans
1.03 – DJ
1.04 – Zeke
1.05 – Bell
1.06 – AB
1.07 – Julio
1.08 – Amari
The first thing I was considering at 9 was the possibility of moving up a couple of spots to grab Amari. I did have some negotiations, but ultimately backed out and felt I could still get a really good player at 9. Staying at 9, I considered my various options. With the big 3 RBs predictably gone, I was focused on WR. I considered the following players: Nuk, Michael Thomas and AJ Green. I further narrowed it down by pulling AJ out based on turning 29 before this season. You could certainly argue AJ over both of these guys, but I prefer to stay younger if I can with my first pick, so we can save that for another article. Since I was really only targeting two guys, I did not spend much time considering a trade down and just started comparing the two in order to make my decision.
Starting with measurables, they are pretty close here, but I would give Thomas the slight edge with the 2 extra inches in height.
Now let’s look at some stats for both. I have included college numbers, since Thomas only has one year in the NFL.
Hopkins was great at Clemson and threw up a sick 18 TDs in his junior year, on his way to becoming a late first round pick (27 OVR) in the NFL. Thomas led Ohio State in receiving in each of his final two years before being selected with a mid-second round pick (47 OVR). The raw college numbers clearly favor Hopkins, but the team situations need to be compared. Clemson’s wide open style was much more WR friendly.
Hopkins showed a steady increase in NFL production over his first 3 seasons, with a great season in 2014 and a ridiculous season in 2015. Some regression should have been expected in 2016, but the fall was horrendous. Fantasy owners who took Nuk early in drafts were burnt a hell of a lot more than opposing corners. Poor QB play, along with some expected regression contributed to a very disappointing season. I project the regression to turn positive in 2017 with numbers still falling short of 2015, but should match or exceed 2014. Hopkins is an absolute target magnet with all of the tools to succeed and a history that supports continued success.
Thomas was a beast and has continued the new NFL trend that says WRs can be successful in their first year. He is a big target over the middle and in the red zone. It is easy to look at a player having this much success in year one and assume they will continue to progress, but it can be so hard to project. The thought is for additional volume, but Brees historically spreads the ball around and no single Saints player has had more than 129 targets since 2012. Thomas had 121 in 2016, so I am not sure it is fair to predict he is just going to jump up to 150 targets. Also, Thomas’s catch rate in 2016 was an impressive 76% and was higher than any other player with 100 or more targets. Thomas does have excellent hands, but I would still expect some drop off from that kind of efficiency.
Lastly, I considered situation. Hopkins is still the man in Houston and I don’t see anything changing that. What I did see is a Houston team aggressively move up from 25 to 12 to get what they expect to be a franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson. On the other hand, Thomas is catching passes from a future Hall of Famer in Drew Brees. Brees will be 39 at the end of this upcoming season though, and that leaves some uncertainty. I also think the loss of Brandin Cooks with his ability to stretch the field could make things more difficult for Thomas in his sophomore year.
So if you go through all of these steps, I think you find two guys that are really close. I don’t think the Thomas over Hopkins camp is wrong, I just think they are falling into a bit of recency bias after a disappointing Hopkins season and a surprising Thomas season. With this valuable of a pick I prefer to avoid the one year wonder risk. Check the chart below for the career of 2004 15th overall pick out of LSU, Michael Clayton.
I’m not saying Michael Thomas is Michael Clayton (they do have the same first name though), quite the opposite actually, I like him a lot and have acquired him in one of my leagues via trade. However I think I have demonstrated that they are at least close, so I’m going to happily take Nuk.