And it doesn’t seem to matter who is throwing him the ball.
“Yeah, Mike Thomas, man. What’s his Instagram? ‘Can’t Guard Mike?’” said backup Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has shrewdly relied on the 6-foot-3, 212-pounder by completing 49 passes to him for 598 yards and three touchdowns since taking over for injured starter Drew Brees in Week 2. “Mike’s an outstanding guy, man."
Brees laughed when asked about the way Bridgewater has leaned on Thomas.
“Yeah, well, if he’s open then throw it to the big man, ya know,” said Brees, who helped Thomas set an NFL record with 321 catches in his first three seasons -- including a franchise-record 125 last year.
When Thomas was asked how much pride he takes in being able to generate the same level of production no matter who’s throwing the ball, he said simply, “I’m just doing my job.”
But while it might not matter who is throwing to Mike, does it matter who’s guarding him?
“It should be a fun matchup. I’ve definitely got my hands full,” said Peterson, who will be the most decorated cornerback Thomas has faced yet in his four-year career.
“Michael is by far the leading target on their team by like 27 targets or something like that,” said Peterson. (It’s actually 40 targets. Thomas has 79, running back Alvin Kamara has 39, and receiver Ted Ginn Jr. is third with 29.)
“So I know I’m gonna get a heavy dose of him. And I believe if I’m able to hold up my end of the bargain and play great football, challenge him as much as I can, I believe I can give this defense an opportunity to be successful,” Peterson said.
Peterson said he won’t follow Thomas when he goes into the slot -- but he suggested he will shadow Thomas on all other plays.
“This week I will have a great opportunity to have Michael at times,” Peterson said. “I won’t necessarily call it traveling with him, but I will have a good bit of opportunities. Because they move him around a lot. Having a guy like me try to go inside and play nickel can throw off a defense a little bit. But I will have my fair share of opportunities against him. I’m sure he’s looking forward to the matchup. It should be a great one. And that place is gonna be wild. I can’t wait to get down there to the Superdome.”
According to ESPN fantasy analyst Mike Clay’s data, only 11 cornerbacks have shadowed Thomas in his career in the same way that Peterson is expected to shadow him on Sunday -- meaning they flip sides of the field, left and right, depending on where Thomas lines up.
And of those 11 corners, only the Detroit Lions’ Darius Slay has had any substantial success against him -- in two meetings that spanned Thomas’ first two seasons in 2016 and 2017. Slay was the cornerback lined up across from Thomas on the snap on a total of 36 plays in those two meetings, and Thomas was targeted just four times with three receptions for 28 yards and zero touchdowns.
Peterson lined up against Thomas on just nine snaps when they last met during Thomas’ rookie year in 2016, with Thomas being targeted once with zero catches.
The best that any cornerback has done while shadowing Thomas over the past two years has been either the New York Giants’ Janoris Jenkins last year (31 snaps, four catches for 47 yards) or the Jacksonville Jaguars’ A.J. Bouye two weeks ago (30 snaps, five catches for 43 yards).
Perhaps the most intriguing previous matchup in Thomas’ career came in the 2017-18 playoffs, the “Minneapolis Miracle” game, when Xavier Rhodes held him in check throughout the first half before Thomas helped New Orleans rally with two second-half touchdowns.
But the 6-foot-1, 203-pound Peterson will present a must-watch challenge.
“He’s definitely a competitor, Pro Bowler, a guy you have to watch a lot of film on and study and respect,” Thomas said. “And then you go out there and just compete at a high level.”
“He’s one of the best corners in the league, has been for a long time,” Brees said. “One of those guys that week in and week out it’s like, ‘All right, who is he starring?’ And obviously if that’s the case this week, we know who that’ll be. So we’ll play it as it comes.”
“Yeah, Pat Pete, a South Florida guy. That’s what we do,” said Bridgewater, a Miami native. “But no, man, he’s an outstanding player. You look over the course of his career at the plays that he makes, the energy that he brings to that defense is noticeable. You have to know where he is on the field."
Saints coach Sean Payton, who has coached Peterson in the Pro Bowl, said he does rank as one of those cornerbacks who can actually affect a team’s planning heading into a game.
“I think No. 1, he’s got good ball skills. I think it’s hard for a corner to be really feared if they can’t catch the ball well. … And when that ball’s in the air he tracks it well and plays it much like a receiver. So your placement’s gotta be good,” Payton said. “And he’s got real good length, which is a real good attribute. And he’s smart.
“[So we consider], ‘How do we get him off Mike Thomas if that’s where he’s going? How can we formationally make him do some things he’s not used to doing?’ … It’s definitely part of the plan.”
But then again, it might not matter who’s guarding Mike, considering Bridgewater admitted he’s not afraid to throw up the occasional 50-50 ball and let Thomas go up and get it — like the receiver did this past Sunday on a spectacular 34-yard catch behind double coverage.
"[Thomas] works extremely hard, and his hard work has been each and every Sunday and he’s making plays for his team,” said Bridgewater. "I mean, he was double-guarded. But, you know, you can’t guard Mike. He’s a guy who plays with extreme confidence. And as a quarterback, that’s a fun sight to see.”
ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss contributed to this report.