With their first pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos selected: Demaryius Thomas, WR, Georgia Tech. I think you'd all agree that that fact already has all the makings of a difficult trivia question for the average fan out there. Despite all of my preparation for the draft, the Thomas pick surprised me somewhat. Because I viewed him as an early second round prospect, I figured he'd come off the board somewhere between our choices at #11 and #43, so I didn't really bother with getting to know him all that well. That said, I did know a little about him and I liked what I had seen, heard or read. Since the draft, however, I've taken a closer look and I thought I'd share that information with you all now.
I choose to focus on Thomas now, instead of any of our other rookies, because - despite being our top choice in the draft - he seems to have slipped through the cracks of our attention. Tim Tebow remains the lightning rod that he's always been, and the selection of Zane Beadles in the second round was somehow even more controversial than that choice. Eric Decker quickly became a fan favorite and J.D. Walton was perhaps the only truly expected pick out of the four made during the first two days of the draft. The remainder of the bunch has been taken with a grain of salt, as I suppose most late-round picks should be. The silence surrounding Demaryius, however, feels misplaced.
For all the talk of Tim Tebow and what he means to head coach Josh McDaniels, Thomas was the prospect he had to have in this draft. He's the guy they took with their first pick - the only one they had assured in the range where they ultimately expected both of those players to be taken. He's the guy they traded up for first to secure and they paid a premium to do it as well. He really is an impressive prospect and I have very high hopes for what he'll be able to accomplish at the next level, sooner rather than later. Let us therefore get to know him once again, so that maybe he can make a second impression worthy of the status that I believe he should hold in our hearts and minds.Demaryius Thomas was a highly regarded high school football player in the state of Georgia. Thomas played wide receiver and some cornerback for the West Laurens High School Raiders (I know!) in Dublin, Georgia. Already listed at 6'4", 215 pounds and with an underwhelming forty yard dash time as a high school senior, some wondered - like Scout.com did - if Demaryius' future at the college level and beyond was actually at tight end. Nevertheless, he received some interest from several college football powers from across the southeast, such as Auburn, Clemson, Florida State and South Carolina; he eventually entertained scholarship offers from Duke, Georgia and Georgia Tech before signing his letter of intent to play for the latter.
During Chan Gailey's tenure as Georgia Tech's head football coach, the program was marred by persistent off-the-field issues ranging from widespread academic ineligibility to the charge against cornerback Reuben Houston for conspiracy to distribute 96 pounds of marijuana. On the field, the Yellow Jackets earned the reputation of perennial underachievers and only their penchant for dramatic upsets kept Gailey's administration afloat. Nevertheless, a pro-style offense and the chance to follow in the footsteps of superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson - all the while staying in his home state and receiving an elite education - proved too great a lure for Demaryius to ignore.
After sitting out the 2006 season, which turned out to be Johnson's final campaign in Atlanta, Thomas was ready to step into that vacated spotlight. As a redshirt freshman, he emerged as the co-leader of the receiving corps with 35 catches for 558 yards and 3 touchdowns. Immediately following yet another disappointing finish for the team, however, the university saw fit to replace Gailey with Paul Johnson, the then-head-coach of Navy; the move signaled the coming of the flexbone formation and the triple option to Atlanta.
No one would have faulted Thomas if he had chosen to leave Georgia Tech then, in search of an offense more to his liking and more conducive to his professional aspirations. In fact, Demaryius considered the possibility very seriously before deciding to remain in Atlanta. Early on in his first season under coach Johnson, Thomas was asked about the change by Atlanta Jounal Constitution reporter Ken Suguira and he responded with this gem: "Sometimes I think about [not getting many passes], but most of the time I just want to win." And win they did. The Yellow Jackets emerged as unlikely perennial contenders in the Atlantic Coast Conference, in large part due to Thomas' explosive play at wide receiver.
Demaryius actually improved on his personal production across the board ever so slightly, despite far fewer passing attempts, in his sophomore season. He then easily eclipsed those numbers (39-627-3) with his breakout 2009 campaign, during which he amassed 46 catches for 1,154 yards (25 yards per catch!) and 8 touchdowns. He left Georgia Tech with a career line of 120-2,339-14 after just three seasons. Those numbers, however impressive they may be as is, are utterly amazing when you consider them in context.
During Thomas' stay at Georgia Tech, Yellow Jacket quarterbacks went 331 of 696 (48% completion rate) for 5,477 yards with 27 touchdowns and 25 interceptions; less than half of that production, by the way, was achieved in the last two seasons under Coach Johnson. Another way to look at those numbers is this: Demaryius accounted for 36% of the completions, 43% of the yards and 52% of the touchdowns during that span. If you look at his final and most impressive campaign, those numbers shoot up to 59%-65%-73%. In other words, despite remarkably poor passing out of the QB position, limited attempts overall and everyone else knowing that he was their only weapon in the passing game: Thomas still dominated in the air.
Some will point to the fact that the triple option afforded him with favorable match-ups and plenty of space to operate in, but it is still undeniable that he made the most of his very few opportunities and even a cursory review of his highlights goes to show that he did plenty to earn his numbers himself. In fact, I would retort that his effectiveness in the passing game provided the dynamic threat in the perimeter necessary for that system's success at least as much as it helped him.
We've all gotten familiar with Thomas' scouting report since the Broncos drafted him with the 22nd overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, but it bears repeating:
Tall, full-framed, with long arms and large hands... great vertical leap, ball skills and body control... good vision and runs with purpose, breaking tackles and using an effective stiff arm... good and willing blocker... plays physically and is aggressive... deceptively fast and is a legitimate deep threat... team-first... competitive... needs to work on his route-running.
That last little bit seems to have overshadowed much of the rest, basically serving as a lock that could restrain his potential at the next level. From his first press conference after being drafted by Denver, we know that Thomas was only called upon to run three open-field routes - "a hitch, a go, and maybe a comeback" - to which we can add a whole array of screen passes that are also a staple in the triple option's passing game. He did, however, add that he worked on additional routes in practice and that he looks forward to working with coaches and veterans on that aspect of his game. He also impressed Coach McDaniels during a personal interview the week of the draft with his ability to absorb the X's and O's of his offense, so he has the ability to match that desire to learn. Nevertheless, consider the routes that he did run at Georgia Tech and see how well they fit into what the Broncos did last year. They ran a ton of screen passes and we needed a legitimate deep threat. Demaryius will not only replace what we've lost, he'll add a much needed dimension to the passing game.
Make no mistake about it: Thomas has the potential to be an elite wide receiver in the NFL. He is big, athletic, strong, and fast; his combination of all of those physical attributes is unlike many receivers in the league today. Aside from having all of those impressive physical tools, he has the necessary attitude to reach the lofty ceiling they project. It's time to get excited, my friends! We have yet another potential superstar on our hands; one that is used to doing whatever his team requires of him for their joint success - one who's easy to root for and eager to make us happy through his team's success. It's a great time to be a Denver Broncos fan and he is just one of the many reasons why. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to reintroduce Demaryius Thomas; let's give him the welcome he deserves.