Mike Thomas was a sixth-round pick of the Los Angeles Rams in the 2016 NFL Draft after recording 71 receptions for 1,391 yards and 14 touchdowns at Southern Mississippi.
In 2017, Zac Taylor was hired by the Rams as an assistant wide receivers coach. In 2018, he was promoted to quarterbacks coach, a position he held until the Cincinnati Bengals hired him as their head coach in February of last year.
“Zac is a bright coach with an offensive mind and background, which is important to have in today’s NFL,” Bengals owner Mike Brown said in a statement. “And he’s young. He embraces new ideas and new ways to do things, which will be a good thing for us. I believe our team will be exciting and fun to watch with him at the helm.”
So, when Thomas, who ran a 4.30 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, became available after the 2019, Taylor kept an eye on the explosive receiver, and the Bengals signed him in March of this year.
Thomas came into the season with no more than an outside shot to even make the roster on a team that was loaded at wide receiver.
Thursday, he got the call as one of six receivers active against the Browns. And he responded, finishing his day with four receptions for 31 yards (an average of 7.8 yards per catch) and one touchdown, matching his scoring total for his first three years. This, after he caught three passes for 17 yards vs. the Chargers, including some big catches on the final drive.
Thomas’ rookie season with the Rams? Three receptions, 37 yards, no scores.
“My guys were getting open for me,” Burrow said in his post-game interview. “They did a great job for me. . . . I thought Mike Thomas played really well tonight. I would go to war with any of these guys.”
Auden Tate, who started 10 games for Cincinnati last year and ranked second on the team with 575 receiving yards, was a healthy scratch. Tate stands 6-5, weighs in at 228 pounds and catches everything in sight. But, with a 40 time of 4.68 seconds, Tate lacks the speed of Thomas.
Thomas showed that explosiveness in training camp, and was the No. 1 target of new Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow, with A.J. Green, Tee Higgins and John Ross all missing time due to various injuries. He and Tate put on an impressive show this summer, and each will get their opportunities.
“We have a lot of really good examples of that on our football team right now,” Taylor said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. ”Of guys that fit that description. And the guys that fit that description bring everyone else along with them. It’s such a good culture. You get here in the morning and see guys getting in extra work. It’s a really good environment to be around every day for the players.”
Despite wide receiver being arguably the deepest position on the roster, it’s clear that Thomas has cemented a role in this offense.