Sitting at home with friends and family in Chicago, Thomas watched as former Saints running back Deuce McAllister stepped to the podium and called his name with the 47th overall pick in the draft. Under normal circumstances, Thomas would have been excited for the culmination of his football dreams. But there was one big problem.
New Orleans was picking a different Michael Thomas. The Saints went with the Ohio State version, a player who had long been pegged as a first or second-round choice and had attended the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Instead of landing with the Saints or at any time in the second round, Thomas had to wait much longer to hear his name again, listening intently for the designation of "from Southern Mississippi" to be sure it was right.
As it turned out, the Rams finally came calling in the sixth round, using pick No. 206 to secure Thomas' services. For Thomas, being chosen behind someone sharing his name wasn't nearly as surprising as having to wait until the draft's penultimate round.
“I was anticipating going earlier, but I was just being patient and didn’t let it get to me," Thomas said. "I just knew I was going to get picked, but I didn’t know when."
Actually, Thomas had some preconceived projections for his draft status that fall in line with where the other Thomas went.
“To be honest, probably second through the fourth, no later than the fourth," Thomas said. "But, obviously that didn’t happen. I just stayed patient and kept thinking positive about it and here I am.”
Thomas' surprise at lasting as long as he did is actually well-founded. After bouncing from junior college to Southern Miss, Thomas was one of the country's most productive receivers. In 2015, he finished with 71 catches for 1,391 yards and 14 touchdowns. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, it wasn't like Thomas lacked size and reports pegged his 40-yard dash time at his pro day in the 4.4-4.5 second range so speed wasn't necessarily the issue, either.
Of course, had Thomas posted those numbers at the combine, his stock probably would have soared when matched with his production.
“It was really a surprise," Thomas said of not getting a combine invite. "That just motivated me more to keep going. That put a lot of fire in me to keep going, keep working hard, and thinking positive the whole way through.”
Thomas said after the draft that he didn't think the lack of a combine invite hurt his stock but he also couldn't quite put his finger on why he didn't go earlier. Even the deeper analytical sites like Pro Football Focus believe Thomas has the look of a potential late-round bargain. PFF recently named Thomas one of its top 10 sleeper picks in the draft after giving him the 11th highest grade of all wideouts in this year's draft class.
According to PFF's metrics, Thomas averaged 2.98 yards per route run, which was fifth best among receivers in the class.
"Michael is a guy who played at Southern Miss, and played on the outside there," Rams general manager Les Snead said. "He ran a lot of routes for them and caught a lot of balls. What you notice about him is being able to catch the ball when there was a defender near him, and pluck the ball out of the air when somebody was covering him or draped on his back, per se.”
After the draft, one Rams personnel man agreed with the assessment that Thomas could be the sleeper of the class. In joining the Rams, Thomas finds himself in position to make a run at a roster spot.
In terms of true outside receivers, the Rams have only Kenny Britt and Brian Quick on the roster. Britt and Quick will be unrestricted free agents after the season and Quick has never lived up to his draft status as an early second-round pick. If Thomas can pick up the offense and NFL route tree in short order, he should have a chance to not just secure a spot on the 53-man roster but possibly even contribute as a rookie.
“I bring dynamic playmaking skills," Thomas said. "I can stretch the field, make things happen, make plays, execute plays, and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing with the Rams. Keep making plays, executing, and winning games.”
And perhaps make a name for himself in the process.