Wide receivers are not created and groomed to be one thing. Some have skills that are more widespread, while others excel and thrive in a certain area. Neither approach is incorrect, but for those who watch, analyze, and discuss football, the end result gives us arguably the offensive position that has the most varied skill set.
If we were to make an attempt to simplify this, there’s often the pure speed burner (think Victor Cruz, or going further back, Randy Moss in his prime), the hulking physical brute who will beat you up over the middle (Anquan Boldin), and the shifty slot pest (Wes Welker).
But then what complicates matters — at least for defensive coordinators — are the hybrids. The rare and uniquely constructed Calvin Johnsons who do all of those things at a high level: the blazing, the battling, and the elusiveness.
Demaryius Thomas is one of those receivers.
He isn’t Johnson, because no one is. But Thomas’ build is similar (he’s listed at 6’3″ while weighing 229 pounds, and Johnson is 6’5″, 236 pounds), and so are his main attributes. Like Johnson, Thomas is surprisingly fast for a man of his girth, and in a preseason interview with the Denver Post he proudly noted that even when he was nearly 10 pounds heavier, he still ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds.
That’s an unofficial time, of course, because Thomas wasn’t able to participate in the major event at the NFL’s yearly underwear Olympics because of an injury (a broken foot). But a man’s word is his bond, and believing Thomas is easy to do after watching him. If he speaks the truth, here’s some perspective on Thomas’ 40-time even at a heavier build: this past spring Tavon Austin was — quite rightly — heralded as lightning in human form, and we saw that on display for the first time in a meaningful game last week. Austin’s 40 time? He ran a 4.34 at the Combine, meaning a receiver who’s much lighter than Thomas (Austin weighs 179 pounds) is only four hundredths of a second faster.
That makes me believe science is broken.
What that’s translated to now under Peyton Manning in Denver over the past two seasons is a receiver who’s ideally suited for an aging quarterback who can still throw the deep ball, but with his arm strength declining, short-to-intermediate routes are the more effective chosen weapon. The resulting chemistry has led to this: the often utilized Thomas wide receiver screen that sends fear across the land.
That was one of Thomas’ two receptions for 70 yards or more this year, and of the 78 yards above, 75 of them came after the catch, which is how Thomas has combined with his running mates Wes Welker and Eric Decker to form the engine of of a Broncos passing attack that’s on pace to break multiple single-season records. That includes total passing yards (current pace for 5,715 yards, and the record is 5,476), and passing touchdowns (current pace for 54, and the record is 50).
Thomas’ primary contribution has been one of speed after the catch. That can readily be seen both above, and during his 70-yard reception Sunday night, two entirely different examples where breakaway speed is showcased. In the first example from back in Week 1 the result was solely of Thomas’ creation after the catch as he found the seam and went untouched. The second from Sunday began when Thomas straight out beat Marcus Cooper by being the far faster man, and then he added about 30 yards while flying straight through the catch and out-running tackles. It was quite Megatron-like.
It’s that speed — that post-catch, play-extending speed which is tailored perfectly for Manning because it can be used in a variety of ways — that gives him a unique blend of athleticism and physicality for his size, and it’s put Thomas atop a distinguished group thus far in the 2013 season.
With 436 yards, Thomas is currently the leader in yards after the catch, and he’s ahead of running backs like LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, and Jamaal Charles who pretty much only get yards after the catch when they’re recording any receiving yards whatsoever. Charles even has more yards after the catch (390) than he has total yards (383). Thomas’ YAC is nearly half of his overall receiving yardage (47.7 percent, and Thomas has 914 total yards with nine touchdowns at a career-high pace of 91.4 yards per game).
To put that into a larger context, Thomas’ after the catch chugging puts him ahead — albeit narrowly — of Pierre Garcon using the same metric, who’s used similarly in Washington. He’s also on Garcon’s level with a larger and more meaningful percentage, as Garcon’s YAC comprises 15 percent of his team’s passing yards, while Thomas is just behind at 12 percent.
Perhaps Broncos safety Rahim Moore, who shadows Thomas often in practice, best describes how the former Georgia Tech standout has reached those numbers:
“He’s a big guy. The thing is, he can run past you too; he has 4.3 (speed). He can body you. He has a Shannon Sharpe body with Calvin Johnson speed. Great hands too. Strong at the point. You can have great coverage on D.T., but if he catches the ball and you try to swat-hook it or you try to bat it out, his forearms are so strong he just reels that ball in.”
Turns out Thomas is a pretty self-aware guy too:
“If I get him in a certain position, I know [a defensive back] can’t come through my body because I’m so big and heavy. Then the quarterback places the ball where only you can get the ball. So, sometimes if I have a go route, and I just don’t beat him deep, I might have him on my inside hip. If he tries to come through my body, it’s hard because I’m big and he can’t break it up most of the time. I’m just going to shed him off. It’s hard to knock a big guy off.”
Yes it is, Demaryius. It certainly is.
If you support the Denver Broncos, Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas have made it very easy for you to be #FanEnough this season. Check out the #FanEnough hashtag on Twitter, and let us know what your favorite team is doing to make you #FanEnough.