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Saints program cover story: Michael Thomas

New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees have called wide receiver Michael Thomas' number time and time again this season, and he has answered. In his third year out of Ohio State University, Thomas is quickly establishing himself as one of the best receivers in the league, flexing his way into the NFL record books. After dubbing his third season in the league his No Record Is Safe Tour, Vol. 3. via Twitter, Thomas became the lone player to have the most receptions in their first 40 career games after hauling in his first target by Brees against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week Ten. With that reception, he surpassed Odell Beckham Jr., who previously held the record with 266 grabs though his first 40 career games.

Thomas' ability to use his strong hands and find the soft spot in the defense makes him a threat to any defense on any given down. Thomas has been a bigger part of the New Orleans offense than any receiver in Saints history through a player's first three seasons, and 2018 has topped the first two. He recorded 28 catches through the first two games, the most in NFL history, breaking the previous mark of 26, set by Andre Rison with the Atlanta Falcons in 1994. Thomas also set a Saints single-game receiving record in a huge win over the previously undefeated Los Angeles Rams in Week Nine, catching 12 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown.

"Some of it is by design, some of it is based on the coverage looks," Payton said. "He's a big part of what we're doing."

With Thomas playing at a premier level, and the Saints moving full speed ahead just past the midway point of the season, here's a number to consider. Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry both had 288 catches through their first three seasons (tied for the most in NFL history). Thomas is currently on pace to tally around 336 career catches by season's end.

Tonight's Thanksgiving showdown in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the Falcons will be a tough test for the Saints, as Julio Jones comes to town. Fans of wideouts will certainly have the opportunity to see two of the best at their craft, whether in person or on television. Entering Week 11, Thomas (78) and Jones (67) rank among leaders in receptions, with Thomas tied for first. The humble Thomas isn't one to call out other receivers. He doesn't have to. He lets his game do the talking. While he wants to be the best in the league, he wants to win, and that's all that matters.

"I'm trying to go for that No. 1 spot. For me to get to the No. 1 spot, I can't worry about what he's doing. Why are my eyes on somebody else's paper when I'm writing my own paper?"

After making a big play, rarely do you see Thomas get in the face to let a defender know he just got the best of him. Thomas goes to his trademark by throwing up the bodybuilder flex. He lets the flex do the talking for him.

"Flexing does a lot of talking because when I flex, good things are probably happening," he said.

It's clear that Thomas is about winning every rep, every day.

If Thomas, the Saints' record-setting third-year receiver, isn't the most physical receiver in the NFL, it won't take long to find his name on the list.

"Every day I just come out here and compete," he said. "I came from a competitive background, and I've always had to compete my whole life. So just to come out here, and football makes it easier because you're going against an opponent, and it's one-on-one matchups and it's a team sport, so we're trying to move the ball and put points on the board."

Thomas also draws high praise from his quarterback.

"No matter where Mike is, it all comes out of Mike's drive and competitive nature," Brees said. "I see it in practice every day. Mike goes to another place. When it is time to compete, Mike goes to another place, and he flips the switch, and it's just like he puts on the cape and here we go. You look Mike in the eye and you believe that he is going to get open no matter who is covering him, no matter what the situation. He just has that mentality. The guy wants to win on every single play, and he's going to give you his absolute best on every single play. That's a rare trait."

In his third season, Thomas is coming into his own. He and Brees are firing on all cylinders as they set their eyes on the prize, which first and foremost involved working week-to-week towards the goal of a deep playoff run and a Super Bowl Championship.

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