What makes a wide receiver elite? It seems to be something that really gets fans riled up for some good old fashioned "you're an idiot if you think that" debate, so any time we see some validation in the stats for any Denver Broncos it is always a good share.
ESPN put out an article last week covering the top wide receiver by route type. Out of ten route types, only one wide receiver topped more than one route type and that was predictably Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions. Other top route wide receivers were Alshon Jeffrey, T.Y. Hilton, Victor Crus, Anquan Boldin, Josh Jordon, Andre Johnson, DeSean Jackson and the Broncos own Demaryius Thomas.
The routes graded were go, corner, comebacks, outs, screens, posts, hitches/curls, ins, slants and crossing routes. To dig deeper into the full rankings list, you will need to get through ESPN's paywall, but I will share a bit for Demaryius Thomas.
Screens: Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos (280 yards)
If opening night was any indicator, it showed how important the wide receiver screen would be in the Broncos' historic offense. Demaryius Thomas took a screen pass 78 yards for the touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in the season's first game, and he continued to use his after-the-catch ability on the route for the rest of the season.
He caught 18 screens for 280 yards to average 15.6 yards per reception, and that total accounted for 19.6 percent of his 1,430 yards on the year.
I am sure most of us knew he would likely be the top screen guy with all of those huge screen plays from 2013, but I really felt he was a top wide receiver overall as well, so I began searching for some advanced stats on wide receivers. However, the best I could do was from Pro Football Focus, but only from 2012. Their 2013 stats are under their premium section, which I do not have access too.
In any case, Demaryius Thomas was a beast on their WR rating, deep passing and yards per route lists. You will see certain names appear on these rankings over and over. In my mind, that's what makes an elite wide receiver.
Then you got Julius Thomas. In my search for Demaryius Thomas stats, I found that Julius Thomas finished with the top rating for a slot tight end in yards per route, according to Pro Football Focus. In fact, from that slot position, he was third overall when including wide receivers into the mix.
The Denver Broncos’ high-powered offense took them all the way to the Super Bowl, only to fall at the final hurdle, and tight end Julius Thomas was a big part of that. 314 of his 864 receiving yards came from the slot, and his 2.31 YPRR average was third amongst all tight ends and wide receivers behind only Anquan Boldin and Vincent Jackson.
What conclusions can we draw from all this? I think it shows that both Thomases are route monsters. Julius gained almost half of his yards in 2013 from the slot and recorded zero drops from that position. In fact, he played such an important role in making this offense so explosive that John Elway didn't even attempt to keep Eric Decker around.
I doubt Julius Thomas is very pleased about being a slot monster though, because a judge just ruled yesterday that Jimmy Graham is, in fact, a tight end and will be paid tight end money. The same will go for Julius when he goes to get paid.
Either way, this offense has so many weapons that they should continue to dominate the NFL through 2014 and put themselves in position for a Super Bowl redemption.