In my old age, it’s hard to remember when I first saw Demaryius Thomas for the first time. But, I do recall it was when he was at Georgia Tech...as a receiver in a triple option offense. My first thought was that’s a small tight end, then I realized how dumb I was because Georgia Tech didn’t play any tight ends in Paul Johnson’s flexbone offense. At 6-3, 230 lb., he was bigger than most college defensive ends and seemed like an odd fit in this offense. Yet, every week in his junior campaign (2009 season), he was phenomenal, not so much in volume of catches but what he did with it once he caught it. He only had 46 catches, but he averaged over 25 yards per catch, and notched eight touchdowns. That’s when I knew he was a special player. Here’s a guy asked to block nearly all game long, but when he targeted he made one special play after another.
Thomas spent a couple of years in quarterback purgatory when he first got to Denver, yet still made historical plays. His catch and run touchdown on the first play of overtime in 2011 against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round will be remembered forever in Denver. Then, in 2012, Peyton Manning arrived and unlocked the NFL greatness within the man they call “DT”. With Manning leading the way and getting Thomas the football, DT finished with 94 catches for 1,434 yards and ten touchdowns.
Either way, Thomas then caught 481 passes over the next five years. He even caught 83 passes last year from quarterbacks named Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler. Over that span, he was named to four Pro Bowls and helped lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl L (50) championship.
And, now he’s a Texan. So, I went back to see what Thomas can provide this Texans offense. Answer? A lot. As I studied his games, a couple of plays stood out to me in his matchup with Marcus Peters and the Los Angeles Rams in week six.
Thomas is aligned as the Z receiver on the left side of the formation.
He slid in motion to a near stack position with fellow receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
The Broncos wanted to flood the left side of the formation with Sanders, Thomas and fullback Andy Janovich. Thomas was responsible for the sail route or deep speed out route, the intermediate route of the three. So, his release off the ball, combined with Sanders, was designed to confuse the two Rams defenders. Those two Rams defenders, Troy Hill and Marcus Peters, were going to match the Broncos receivers based on the release. When Sanders went deep and to the corner, Hill matched him. As such, when Thomas started inside and then rolled out, Peters matched him. Or tried to.
The one thing people have asked me is whether Thomas, now in his 30s, has lost any speed from his game. Well, this play clearly showed that’s a no.
Why do I say that? Thomas “got up” on Peters so fast before rolling into his cut to the sideline that Peters had no choice but to grab him and interfere with his route.
Thomas didn’t get a stat but he created a 19-yard pass interference call on one of the best corners in the league due to his explosion and route running skill.
Later in the game, he did get a stat, his final touchdown as a Bronco and it’s a great reminder of the quickness and nimble feet that Thomas possesses. Did I tell you he’s 6-3, 230 lb.? Well, take that into consideration as you check out this touchdown catch.
Down on the goal line, he’s aligned in the slot. He has a Ram defensive back on him (Troy Hill) and help to his inside (John Johnson).
This is not, at first glance, an optimal situation for Thomas. Seemingly, that is.
First of all, he had Hill in press and the safety Johnson on the inside to take away any in-breaking routes. Secondly, there wasn’t a lot of room to navigate inside the two-yard line. Yet, the 6-3, 230 pound receiver created space for his quarterback.
Immediately on the snap, he jabbed hard at Hill’s outside foot to get him to freeze. Then, he ripped inside just enough to keep Johnson out of the play.
Look at how much separation Thomas created with just that one step/move.
Now, that he has separation, the issue became space in the end zone. He was already two yards in and the ball had just left Case Keenum’s hand.
But, with his 6-3 frame, Thomas was able to reach up over Johnson, bring in the pass and then give a little toe drag swag to get both feet in for the touchdown.
These are two short examples of how he still impacts the game from a number of different alignments and positions on the field. The possibilities of what he can create with DeAndre Hopkins alongside and Deshaun Watson throwing him the rock are seemingly endless.
Photos: WR Demaryius Thomas
Check out some of the best shots from WR Demaryius Thomas' NFL career. Photos via AP Images.