Demaryius Thomas has led the Denver Broncos in receptions three years running. Thomas could be a solid NFL pick on the props market to take the next step and lead the league.
If you catch footballs for a living, having Peyton Manning for your quarterback is about as good as it gets. Ask Demaryius Thomas; in each of Manning's three seasons with the Denver Broncos, not only has Thomas led the team in receptions, he's been in the Top 10 across the NFL. Last year was Thomas' best yet, hauling in 111 catches to finish second behind Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown (129 catches).
Can Thomas take the next step and finish first in 2015? As we go to press, we're still waiting for the props market to produce some football odds on total receptions, so we can't put Thomas in our NFL picks just yet. But we can take a look at his prospects for the new season. Let's gaze into the crystal ball and see what might be in store for our hero.
There's at least one hurdle to clear before Thomas catches a single football this season. His five-year rookie contract expired at the end of the 2014 campaign, and the Broncos decided to slap the franchise tag on their premium wideout – that's $12.8 million for Thomas this year if he chooses to sign. Thomas can also choose to negotiate elsewhere, and if he signs an offer sheet, the Broncos can either match the offer and retain Thomas, or let him go and receive two first-round picks instead.
It's not an ideal bargaining position for Thomas. He wants to return to Denver, but he also wants a long-term extension at something closer to $15 million a year, and the Broncos have until July 15 to make it happen. The two sides don't appear to be anywhere close in negotiations, so Thomas didn't report to OTAs, and he isn't going to show up for the team's minicamp, either.
This isn't likely to help Thomas on the field next year. He'll presumably end up signing the franchise tender on July 15 and report for the start of training camp on July 31. On one hand, Thomas will be motivated to perform well and get that long-term deal. On the other hand, he's behind the preparation curve compared to his contemporaries across the league – those who aren't also holding out, that is (see Bryant, Dez).
May The Koob Be With You
There's an even bigger problem when it comes to Thomas' reception total for 2015. New head coach Gary Kubiak isn't quite as pass-happy as his predecessor, John Fox. Kubiak was the offensive co-ordinator for the Baltimore Ravens last year; the Ravens ranked No. 17 in the league in pass attempts at 554, below the ninth-place Broncos at 607 attempts. Steve Smith was Baltimore's leading wideout with 79 catches.
That's the bad news. Now the good: TE Julius Thomas (43 receptions, 12 TDs last year) isn't around anymore to bogart all those red-zone targets. Julius signed a tasty five-year, $46-million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Now the bad news again: Kubiak has brought in one of his favorites, TE Owen Daniels (48 catches, four TDs for the Ravens), to replace Julius. At least Daniels isn't as much of a red-zone threat, but still.
There's another area of concern, and it's with Manning himself. We're still not ready to send the 39-year-old QB out to pasture, but Manning did tail off at the end of the 2014 campaign after suffering a torn right quad. Demaryius “only” made 23 catches during the last four games of the regular season. Will Manning make it through all 16 games this year without breaking down? Who knows, but he isn't getting any younger, and Denver's offensive line isn't what it used to be. Perhaps Demaryius will be content with making 90 catches and winning a Super Bowl instead of leading the league in receptions.