The concept of a No. 1 receiver is often misunderstood. The term is extremely cliche. The cast of 'true No.1's is far and in between, and Houston's Andre Johnson is one of few that fits the prototypical profile.
Unfortunately for the other 31 NFL teams, there aren't 32 Andre Johnsons: Big, physical, fast targets with good hands, who can run deep, go fearlessly across the middle to make the tough catch, consistently draw double coverage or make defenses pay a giant price for not paying sufficient attention.
No, the well of Andre Johnsons is as dry as the Sahara; which is why many NFL teams will be in the market for a wide receiver once the lockout ends. One such team could Houston's AFC South rival - the Jacksonville Jaguars.
However, they could already have their potential No.1 under contract and just might not know it yet.
As the Jaguars sit in lockout limbo, their No. 1 wide receiver is Mike Thomas. Whether he can become a true No. 1 receiver remains to be seen. He is on a run-first team where running backMaurice Jones-Drew and tight end Marcedes Lewis rank as primary threats in the passing game. He’s branded as a slot receiver, a tag that often denotes limitations. At this stage, many know him solely as the guy who caught David Garrard's Hail Mary that was batted by Glover Quin to defeat the Houston Texans last season.
“I think highly of myself and I think that’s the only way to be,” Thomas said. “I see that kind of stuff and I just kind of smile at it and laugh. We’ll see what happens. It’s not my job or I don’t care about it as much when people say those kinds of things. It comes with the territory. It doesn’t deter me from what I believe."
“Whatever jargon people can come up with, it’s nothing but fuel when you believe you’re just as good as some of the other receivers that they tend to give this high praise to. People tend to look over you, to look past you … I love it, getting that from people," he said. "When they see what I am doing on the field, they think differently. I think I am more than a slot receiver and that’s the way I go about my business.”
But if he does become No.1 on Jacksonville's depth chart, it will be in the style of Carolina’s Steve Smith, a climb made despite not fitting the ideal height/weight/speed mold that all of the scouts and other NFL personnel salivate over.
All the former Arizona Wildcat has done since being selected by the Jaguars in the fourth round of the 2009 draft is make plays. A confident and explosive receiver, the 5-8, 198-pound Thomas has not allowed his size to hold him back. He has developed a solid rapport with quarterback David Garrard, raising his receiving yards from 453 to 820 and reception total from 48 to 66 from 2009 to ’10.
But Thomas is not just a weapon in the passing game — he is also the club's No. 1 punt returner and a dangerous ballcarrier on end-arounds thanks to his blistering 4.3 speed.
Although Thomas has already established himself as the Jaguars' most trusted wideout, 2011 could be the season in which he becomes a star. With the imminent departure of free-agent WR Mike Sims-Walker, the Jags' receiving corps - outside of Thomas - consists of a plethora of no-name walk-ons. Hell, with how their depth chart looks at receiver, I'd consider suiting up and trying out myself if I were in football shape.
But since that's not the case, I'll pass the torch to Thomas.
He has the tools and opportunity to finally become the team's No. 1 option in the passing game. If he makes the same reception jump he made from his rookie year to his second season, he’d be in line for 91 catches in a full season in 2011.
He wants 1,000 yards receiving and points to four games in 2010 where he had two catches or fewer. If he can be more of a factor in those four games, he should rack up more than the extra 180 yards that stood between him and the magical 1,000-yard mark.
Thomas said it’s not so hard to shine as a receiver in a run-based offense, citing Roddy White in Atlanta as a prime example.
“I’m a receiver and I love to catch the ball, so of course I’d love to see us throw it more,” Thomas said. “At the same time I stay in my lane and I respect what kind of team we are, the guys I play with.”
He got a little work with first-round draft pick Blaine Gabbert during a recent player-organized practice and their relationship could be a key one for Jacksonville in the years to come.
But for now, Thomas expects Garrard to be under center.
“We’ll just have to see what happens at camp, and hopefully that’s soon,” he said. “The team’s come out publicly and said Gabbert’s going to take a year and develop and get some coaching. That being said, if it’s Dave, we’re going to continue to run with Dave. I think Dave is a hell of a quarterback. We hope he can get us in position to make a playoff push. If it’s Gabbert, then we’ll do the same thing with Gabbert."
“Whoever it is, I think it’s going to be a fantastic time.”
Thomas is also different from many wide receivers in that he doesn't have a bona fide diva complex. He’s more concerned with getting a chance to say “We’re No. 1” than “I am a No. 1.”