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Spotlight: Demaryius Thomas

posted by Cecil Lammey on Jul 31st


Cecil Lammey's thoughts

Demaryius Thomas could have a huge breakout season with Peyton Manning under center for the Denver Broncos. We've seen glimpses from Thomas during his pro career, but not consistent production. Last year he came on strong towards the end of the year and there's a very good chance he can carry that momentum over to this season. During his Hall of Fame career Manning's number one WR has average over 90 catches per season, and that could be a production level that Thomas hits in 2012. Thomas isn't the most polished WR but his incredible upside makes him an intriguing prospect to consider for your fantasy leagues. He can be drafted as a WR2 this year but could easily perform like an every week WR1.

Thomas has the pure physical talent to be a top 5 WR in this league. He's not quite on the level of Calvin Johnson or Andre Johnson, but he could certainly be on the next tier right below those guys. Thomas provides Manning with a huge target and his large catch radius could certainly be a factor when the Broncos are in the red zone. He's not just a big guy who can jump. As we saw on his 80-yard catch and run to win in the playoffs against the Steelers (in Overtime), Thomas can flat out fly down the field. His size/speed combination is very rare and could help him perform like an elite level WR in 2012.

He's known to have concentration lapses from time to time and will let some easy passes hit the ground. Thomas also needs to improve as a route runner. He simply can't be a one-route guy like he was in college if he wants to flourish with Manning at Quarterback. Thomas has also had trouble staying healthy during his pro career. He missed several games in 2011 as he came back from an offseason Achilles' injury.

The Broncos knew they needed a better passing offense if they wanted to be a true Super Bowl contender and that's why the decision was made to add Manning and trade away Tim Tebow. Their WR corps lacks elite production but that's because of the QB play and design of the offense under Tebow and Kyle Orton. Both Thomas and Eric Decker have star potential, and will be the key pieces to the passing game. At this point in his career we should see a more controlled Manning, but one that is still efficient and effective.

Thomas has the potential to be a superstar but will he stay healthy and play up to his potential? His current ADP is WR20 and he should be able to out produce that mark. He may not finish as a top 5 fantasy WR this year, but breaking into the top 15 shouldn't be a problem - especially in PPR leagues. Let's take a closer look at Demaryius Thomas to examine whether or not he'll really have a career year in 2012.

Questions about Demaryius Thomas entering the 2012 season:

How quickly can he build chemistry with Manning?
Thomas has been working all offseason to build timing and chemistry with his new Quarterback. After Manning was first signed by the Broncos reports immediately came out about Decker, Thomas, and TE Julius Thomas working out with their new QB at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch. Thomas is taking his role as a professional more serious than ever this year. He understands how important he can be to the team's future and doesn't want to let Manning down. Manning responds positively to that type of effort and will reward his receivers with plenty of targets this year.

Can he stay healthy?
This is his biggest question mark. Thomas came back from an Achilles' injury last year and was able to come on strong for the team near the end of the season and into the postseason. He averaged over 100-yards receiving in seven games last year and is looking to build on that momentum in 2012. His conditioning has been intense this offseason as Thomas has prepared for what certainly be a career year. Thomas spent time working with Manning in the offseason and feels the pressure to perform as he doesn't want to let his future Hall of Fame QB down. This new dedication to staying in shape will only help Thomas avoid the injury bug this season.

Can he develop as a route runner?
In college at Georgia Tech the offense Thomas was featured in only averaged 8 passing attempts per game. Most of his targets were on "9 routes" where he'd have one-on-one coverage down the sideline. Either that or it was a WR screen set up by an incredibly effective triple-option ground game. During his time with the Broncos Thomas didn't have to learn the full route tree and was used in a similar way as a deep target. Now with Manning running the show Thomas must become a better route runner. So far during training camp we've seen him run the full route tree. He's very effective on slants, go's, and comeback routes. He is struggling on more sophisticated routes like out & ups, and hook & go's. Thomas is just now learning how to set up defenders, count steps, and force Defensive Backs to turn their hips. Even though he's in the infancy stages of this process he is showing a willingness and desire to become a more precise route runner. That timing and chemistry with Manning should only increase and get better as the season goes along.

Will the Broncos throw enough for him to be a top 10 fantasy WR?
In 2010 Manning averaged 42 passing attempts per game, but we don't expect those same kind of numbers in 2012. In fact, it should be a much more efficient passing game and Manning could average around 32 passing attempts per game. This would put him over 500 attempts on the season which is more than enough to build an incredibly strong passing game. The Broncos offense will have balance, but a strong ground game will only help Manning and his targets. Thomas could have a season identical to what Colts WR Reggie Wayne had in 2006 (137 targets, 86 receptions, 1,310 yards, 15.2 ypc, and 9 receiving touchdowns). That year Wayne finished as the third best WR in all of fantasy football. That year Manning averaged only 34 passing attempts per game. Bottom line, the Broncos will be very precise through the air and there's no reason to think they won't be incredibly fantasy relevant as a passing unit.

Can he beat out Eric Decker to become Manning's favorite target?
During OTAs and minicamp Thomas was in full on beast mode and looked like he had an early lead to be Manning's favorite target because of the plays he can make in vertical windows. However, during the early part of training camp it's been Decker showing the best chemistry with Manning. The true answer is this; both could be heavily relied on this year in the Broncos passing game. Thomas is bigger and faster than Decker but lacks the hands and concentration of his teammate. Decker is the better route runner but fails to get consistent separation and does not have the size/speed combination that Thomas has. Thomas could be a factor in the red zone because of his size and vertical leaping ability. It wouldn't surprise us to see Decker get a few more catches, but Thomas get more touchdowns on the season. In fantasy terms both have top-15 upside with Peyton Manning under center in 2012.

Positives

  • Great size/speed combination
  • Large catch radius, can make plays in vertical windows
  • Great target in the red zone

Negatives

  • Durability is a concern
  • Doubts about his route running ability
  • Could be Manning's second favorite target

Final thoughts

The Broncos won't necessarily be a pass happy offense even though they have a huge upgrade at the QB position with Manning. However, they should be efficient and effective when they take to the air and there's a good chance they'll have two WRs (Thomas and Decker) finish as top 15 fantasy prospects. Manning has never had a big, physical, and fast target like Thomas before. Chances are it will take some time to develop sharp timing and chemistry. However, when they hit, they'll hit big and fantasy owners need to pay attention. He could certainly outperform his ADP (WR20) and there's a chance that he breaks into the top 15 - maybe top 10. Demaryius Thomas has always had incredible upside, and this is the year he plays up to his potential.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

DoubleG said:

Another stat worth noting (which seems to semi-contradict the above) is that Manning's leading receiver had 100.7 receptions per year from 2001-2010 (Wayne's rookie season) - his second receiver averaged 69.8 receptions. So, presuming somewhere in between is where I came up with 80 (which is conservative, imho - especially if DT becomes his #1 target). His 1250 yards is an average of 15.6 per catch - which is actually about a yard and half lower than his YPR with Tebow was last year. The 12 TDs was simply a matter of presuming that DT is the #1 - and that from 2000-2008 Harrison had 11+ TDs 6 out of 9 seasons (2 of 3 he missed it were his last 2 injury-plagued seasons).

David Yudkin (Footballguys.com Staff Writer) said:

As for those suggesting (as have I) that Thomas would do light years better with Manning than with Tebow, it may not be apples to apples. If defenses were loading the box to stop the run and dared the Broncos to pass last year, I don't see any way that defenses this year will be playing 8 or 9 in the box with Manning at QB. Thomas did a lot of damage because there really were few guys defending in the secondary. I am sure defenses would be happy to let the Broncos run this year.

Similarly, Fox in the past has been a conservative coach and has opted to run the ball extensively. I realize that was pre-Manning, but I am not sure the Broncos will throw the ball 650 times like some people are suggesting. Overall, I do think that particularly early in the year there will be some growing pains for the younger guys and some rust to burn off for Manning.

TheDirtyWord said:

In his last 7 games with Tim Tebow at QB, Thomas produced the following line; 35/745/4...that incidentally is a 21.3 YPR. If one thing is clear, Thomas can produce big plays with any QB. He got to the NFL as a 1st round draft pick coming out of a triple option offense. So now, give him one of the greatest QB's to have ever played...and what will he do? That's the quandary of the tantalizing upside of Thomas.

As physically talented as Thomas is, and it certainly seems that in OTA's and mini-camps he was impressive...moreso than Decker, there is a rawness about him that has to be taken into account.

Of any QB, perhaps in NFL history...Peyton Manning is a chessmaster. Moving pieces around, both on the offensive and thereby defensive sides of the ball, Manning is a QB that requires precision. That requires his receivers to be where they have to be, when they have to be there. As recently as June 28, Thomas even acknowledges that this was something he was going to have to improve on. Now on the other side of the fence, even Manning has not been able to help himself with regard to observing and noticing Thomas's prodigious talent. But what this screams to me is that while at the end of the season, you'll look at Thomas's numbers and be right in saying he had a good season, I believe it will be an inconsistent one.

One week he'll go off for 10/165/2...the next two, he'll put up 2/26/0 & 1/24/0. There will be times when he flat out dominant, and others where he can be taken out of the game. It's why I think that despite the obvious talent disparity...Decker will become more of Manning's go-to guy once the bullets start flying because he's simply a more refined player. Now one thing to note...while Thomas may be the most talented WR Manning's ever had...neither Decker or Thomas offer the type of refined WR he had in Harrison/Wayne. Pigeon-holing the current pieces of the DEN passing attack into what Manning has been may be a wrong methodology. But for 2012, for as physically talented as Thomas is, I think he's going to be inconsistent in 2012 along the lines in Vincent Jackson, he'll ultimately wind up being an upper tier WR2. I think his upside is capped and they'll be more weeks where you curse him than celebrate him.

Eminence said:

Teams will scheme for Peyton Manning to be Peyton Manning, which in the past has resulted in some pretty gaudy numbers. That offensive line in Denver is a lot better than the one that Peyton stood behind his last couple years in Indy.

I'm not certain how good the Denver defense really is but there were a more few games last year where Peyton could have theoretically put up some big numbers:

Week 4: Green Bay 49 - Denver 23
Week 5: San Diego 29 - Denver 24
Week 8: Detroit 45 - Denver 10
Week 9: Denver 38 - Oakland 24
Week 13: Denver 35 - Minnesota 32
Week 15: New England 40 - Denver 23
Week 16: Buffalo 40 - Denver 14

Peyton will give them the ability to go stride for stride on some of the more prolific offenses in the game. In the instances such as above (7 games, almost half a the schedule), Peyton's #1 target would have had a chance to put up some numbers.

Granted, it won't all be to one guy but Peyton has had seasons where his receivers caught:

100 Catches (8x)
90 Catches (2x)
80 Catches (5x)
70 Catches (3x)

Historically speaking, Peyton's #1 target has never caught less than about 80 balls. There's nothing so special about this Denver situation (no elite defense or running back) that makes me think there won't be one guy who catches a plethora of passes. If you're not a believer in Demaryius Thomas, then the shark move would be to pick up Jacob Tamme.

In 8 games with Manning in 2010 after Dallas Clark went down with an injury:

67 Catches / 631 Yards / 4 Touchdowns

Assuming Demaryius Thomas gets double-coverage and can't beat it consistently, Tamme is definitely the proven outlet.

I, however am a believer in the 6,3 receiver who has plenty of skill with the ball in his hands. Remember those screens they used to throw to Dallas Clark? I'm sure we'll see more than a few of those to Demaryius Thomas this year. If someone can take advantage of this guys raw skill, it's going to be Peyton Manning.

Similar to how Brett Favre helped a raw 6,4 Sidney Rice produce:

83 Catches / 1,312 Yards / 8 Touchdowns


Demaryius Thomas projections

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