Dear NFL Coaches and General Managers:
My name is Michael Thomas, and I am writing to express my interest in becoming your next breakout wide receiver.
Growing up, there was always a football lying around my house, mostly because of my uncle, Keyshawn Johnson. Football ran in the family. So one thing I always knew how to do was catch a football. But I didn’t truly fall in love with the game until my junior year at Taft High School in Los Angeles. I spent most of my youth training to be the best basketball player I could be. Anything that helped me run faster and jump higher — from speed and agility drills to plyometrics and explosion exercises — I did it because it helped me on the court.
Little did I know, the physical tools I was developing as a basketball player would become the foundation on which I would build my skill set as a wide receiver. And as a senior in high school, those skills, combined with my decision to completely devote myself to the game of football, led to a breakout season in which I had 86 catches, 1,656 receiving yards (the most in the state of California) and 21 touchdowns.
I had already committed myself to being the best football player I could possibly be. But once I got a taste of what it felt like to dominate like that, I knew that I needed to do two things to take the next step: focus on learning the nuances of both the game and the wide receiver position, and work like hell.
I have a motto that I live by. It’s advice that has been given to me by countless coaches and mentors, including my uncle Keyshawn.
Control what you can control.
It sounds cliché, I know. But it has worked for me.
For instance, I couldn’t control the number of targets I got at Ohio State. We had an offense loaded with playmakers, and there was only one ball to go around. So while some of the other top receivers in this week’s draft saw 200-plus targets over the last two seasons combined, I only had 157 balls thrown my way.
But what I could control is how many of those balls I came down with — and I caught 110 of those 157 passes, 18 for touchdowns. I also had control over how many times I let the ball hit the ground, and in those two seasons combined I had only five drops. So the number of catches in my stat line might not match that of other prospects, but at the end of the day, when the ball gets thrown my way, it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s getting caught.
I also couldn’t control the type of offense we ran at Ohio State. We ran an offense that didn’t require me to run a lot of go routes from my X position, so there isn’t a lot of film of me burning past cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage. And I’ve heard a lot of draft experts and analysts say that I don’t have the speed to do that, mainly because they haven’t seen me do it.
Urban Meyer believed in me from the day I stepped on campus at Ohio State, but he made me earn every opportunity I got. Nothing was given to me, and he helped mold me into the person and player I am today. His offense may not have called for many go routes, but coach Meyer always put me in a position to succeed. At the same time, my position coach, Zach Smith, and my strength coach, Mick Marotti, always made sure that I was mentally and physically prepared to take advantage of the opportunities coach Meyer gave me to shine.
So I couldn’t control the plays that were called. But what I could control was doing the job I was asked to do and running the routes I was asked to run as effectively as possible. I could control how well I executed the game plan to help our team win.
Let me take you back to Week 11 in 2014, my sophomore year. We were ranked 14th and we were on the road against No. 8 Michigan State, trailing 21–14 late in the second quarter. I ran a slant, J.T. Barrett put it on the money and I took it 79 yards for the game-tying touchdown.
It wasn’t a go route, but I still outran the entire Michigan State defense. I did the job I was asked to do, and I executed the play perfectly. And in football, it doesn’t matter how much speed or talent you have if you can’t execute.
Later that season, after winning the Big Ten title and earning the fourth spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff, we faced No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl for the chance to move on and play for the national championship.
Nobody gave us a chance against an SEC powerhouse like Alabama.
The Big Ten was getting no respect.
But we couldn’t control what people were saying about us, or who the experts were picking. The only thing we could control was making sure that when we lined up against Alabama and the ball was snapped, we brought our A game.
In that game, against a secondary full of NFL-caliber players, I tied a career-high with seven catches, including a crucial touchdown right before halftime.
We controlled what we could control — the result of that game — and we shocked everybody by beating Alabama on our way to winning the national championship.
The draft process has been more of the same. Just like we couldn’t control what people were saying about Ohio State going into that Sugar Bowl, I can’t control what draft experts and analysts are saying about me, either.
When I ran a 4.57 40-yard dash at the combine, I started once again hearing questions about my speed. So I worked like hell between the combine and my pro day to improve my 40 time, and I got it all the way down to a 4.43, which would have been tied for fourth-fastest among wide receivers at the combine.
Some analysts changed their tune about my speed after that pro day.
I guess maybe I can control what they say … a little.
Thursday night, 31 college football players will get their names called as first-round NFL draft picks. I can’t control whether or not my name is one of them. And if it is, I can’t control which team calls my name.
But when my name is called — whenever and by whomever — what I will be able to control is the amount of work I put in, day in and day out, to be the best NFL player I can possibly be. I will be able to control my level of commitment to my craft, to my teammates and, above all else, to winning. And in doing so, I will do everything in my power to make sure that whoever drafts me not only never regrets it, but looks back on it as one of the best decisions they ever made.
That’s what I will do for you and your team if you draft me.
For more NFL Draft Cover Letters and additional draft coverage, visit our 2016 NFL Draft page.