The Bengals are carefully looking at every top wide receiver option in this year's draft class.
Ole Miss' LaQuon Treadwell, Baylor's Corey Coleman and TCU's Josh Doctson are all set to work out for Cincinnati before the 2016 NFL Draft takes place. It seems like almost every mock draft thus far has had one of those three going to the Bengals with the 24th-overall pick.
But there's also an Ohio State Buckeyes receiver who could go in the late first or second round, Michael Thomas. Over the course of his college career, Thomas caught 113 balls for 1,602 yards and 18 touchdowns and helped lead OSU to the 2015 College Football Playoff Championship. That year, Thomas hauled in 54 balls for 799 yards and nine scores.
This past season, Thomas led Ohio State with 56 catches for 781 yards and nine touchdowns, despite the Buckeyes switching quarterbacks throughout the season and opting for an offense geared more toward the run.
This is the full potential of Michael Thomas in one play. pic.twitter.com/lRhWyBdZTV— JGoodberry (@JoeGoodberry) March 25, 2016
In a 2016 class that's lacking big-time receiver prospects, Thomas still isn't someone getting a lot of first-round buzz.
But, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller dropped a mini bombshell Friday in just how highly NFL teams -- namely -- two in the AFC North, think of Thomas:
The AFC North has taken notice of Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas. I’m told by sources with the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals that the former Buckeye ranks as the top receiver on both of their draft boards.
On one hand, it seems like a bit of a stretch to take Thomas at 24 based on how the draft experts view him. As good as Thomas is, he's still a raw prospect who needs some work before he's ready to be an impact as a pass-catcher in the pros.
Most would view him as a reach with the 24th pick, but, he would be a great pick in Round 2. CBS Sports ranks him as this draft's 45th-best prospect and the sixth-best receiver and NFL.com has him ranked 56th overall.
But, on the other hand, Miller's latest mock, coincidentally or not, shows that Thomas may very well end up being the best receiver remaining on the board at 24:
15. Los Angeles WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
22. Houston WR Corey Coleman, Baylor
23. Minnesota WR Josh Doctson, TCU
24. Cincinnati WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State
If Treadwell, Coleman and Doctson are all off the board like I and Miller both think they should be, that does leave the Bengals to pick from Thomas or Notre Dame's Will Fuller in terms of first-round worthy receivers. To be honest, I think Fuller is more of a sure thing in the NFL, but he's going to be somewhere between Tedd Ginn Jr., Devin Smith, Mike Wallace and DeSean Jackson.
And for the 13 of you in the world that hasn't seen this play. pic.twitter.com/hgMygRNfTC— JGoodberry (@JoeGoodberry) March 25, 2016
Thomas, however, has a much higher ceiling, but is raw enough that his floor is also lower, in my opinion. I've seen comparisons to Charles Johnson, Michael Crabtree, Jordan Matthews,
Over at Rotoviz, their heatmap of Thomas as a prospect compares to some quality pro receivers, but also some unknowns still trying to find their NFL footing.
Our friends at Daily Norseman did an excellent scouting report of Thomas and the false dichotomy of upside vs. readiness. Arif Hasan went as far as to compare Thomas to Marvin Jones in his report.
I would compare Michael Thomas to Marvin Jones. Their mutual ability to run off-speed (or on-speed) pair well with their natural craftiness both before and during the route. They have mutual problems at the release, but more than make up for it throughout the process. They have similar issues (especially for Jones coming out) at the catch point, aren't amazing with contested catches and have good hands otherwise. They have a similar track record extending for the ball—which is to say occasional issues, but generally with a good catch radius. They track the ball in similar ways and create after the catch despite what many thought was limited speed and athleticism (and both share underrated agility).
Thomas not only shows (to me) excellent athletic ability, but can refine his game to be a high-level receiver. That he shows consistent improvement throughout his career is proof that a development curve can be wide-ranging, and Thomas may be able to hit the upper end of that.
And that's when it hit me.
The Bengals may see the next Marvin Jones in Michael Thomas, and that's why he may really be on top of their big board at receiver. Sure, they may think guys like Treadwell, Doctson and Coleman are better, but they're more confident Thomas will come in and do what Jones did and be that kind of player, whereas they're not as sure with the other guys as to what they'll be in the NFL or how to effectively use them.
Sure Michael Thomas isn't a first round wideout...sure...... https://t.co/Xte7W5R4K1— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) March 22, 2016
That would explain why they're willing to reach on a guy who should be drafted later, but may not fall to them in Round 2, so they could spend a first-rounder on him to get the next Marvin Jones.
As close as the Bengals were to being a Super Bowl contender last year before Andy Dalton's injury, I really can't blame them for drafting the next Marvin Jones, plugging him in and picking up right where they left off last year in an attempt to make another run at the Lombardi Trophy.
Or maybe this is all just one big smokescreen and we're over analyzing it, but that 'never' happens during the late March lull with the draft a month away, right?