The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.
High Side by Stephen Holloway
Despite sub-standard play, particularly in the playoffs a year ago, Demaryius Thomas has averaged 100 receptions per year over the past four seasons. He caught 105 passes last season for 1,304 yards, 6 touchdowns and a career low 12.4 yards per catch. It's July and we still don't know who will be the Broncos' starting quarterback. The three starting options remain Mark Sanchez, Paxton Lynch, and Trevor Siemian. Yes, the quarterback play remains, but Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler combined last year to complete 60.7% of their passes and averaged only 6.96 YPA. They totaled 19 passing touchdowns, a low water mark that only topped four teams, the Cowboys, 49ers, Vikings and the Rams.
Despite the generally poor quarterback play last season, the Broncos passed the ball 606 times and ran the ball only 411, ranking 17th in the NFL in rushing attempts. Their defense is considered to be one of the top units for 2016, but they were strong last year ranking 1st in yards allowed per game (283) and 4th in points allowed per game (18.5). The expectations of a significant focus on the running game could be exaggerated.
If the passing game is more successful than expected, Thomas would be the leading candidate to produce above expectations. He has led the Broncos in targets, receptions and receiving yardage for four consecutive seasons and would be heavily favored to repeat in 2016. Thomas has finished ranked 5th, 2nd, 4th, and 13th in non-PPR scoring in the past four seasons, and even though his receptions are expected to decrease this year, he could easily improve his yards per catch and touchdowns.
Low Side by Justin Howe
I don't hate Thomas' prospects. In fact, I think his 2016 could be a fine season, if well short of his Peyton Manning heyday. But I don't think his ADP has dropped appropriately in the face of what could be a massive fantasy drop-off. The Broncos will be decisively run-heavy on offense and leading in much of its action. He's far too rich for my blood as the current WR14 in MFL10s.
To develop my 2016 Broncos projections, of course, I had to set an expectation for their offensive play total and run/pass splits. So I examined Gary Kubiak's history with the Texans, in addition to his last two years in Baltimore and Denver, and found his offensive tendencies are typically run-heavy. Over his last five seasons as a head coach and/or offensive coordinator, he's run the ball more than the league average in three. And the run-dominant model certainly makes sense with Kubiak's personnel. The quarterback situation is as shaky as any in the league, with low-efficiency king Mark Sanchez the likely Week 1 starter and two ho-hum prospects who've yet to throw an NFL pass. The Broncos prioritized running backs in free agency, bringing back both C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman, and in the draft. The team scooped Utah workhorse Devontae Booker and were one of only three teams to draft a fullback.
So where does that leave Thomas? A volume dip is certainly coming, but how profound could it be? Potentially catastrophic, that's how. Note that last year, Thomas' target share didn't suffer much without Manning, but his efficiency fell off a cliff. His 16-game pace from Manning's games was 122 catches for 1,490 yards, but tumbled to 88 and 1,118 with Brock Osweiler under center. (Also note that Emmanuel Sanders' numbers didn't drop nearly as much.) And the Broncos, replete with a dominant defense and heavily stocked running game, will likely throw even less in 2016. Without his league-dominant volume, Thomas has only a fairly shaky historical efficiency outlook to go on.
As a result, I've projected Thomas for a line of 83 catches, 1,153 yards, and 9 touchdowns in 2016, and that may well be too low. But this just isn't a passing game in which I can invest a top-25 pick. To me, the much smarter play is to wait 2-3 rounds and invest in Sanders taking on a juicier role.