This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NFLRankings or the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more 2014 Fantasy Football Projections visit Fantasy Football Overdose, a fantasy football blog.
Obviously, that’s the exact opposite of what it’s like to play with Manning. Despite regressing arm strength with age, Manning still has some of the best ball placement in the entire league and is still ridiculously accurate on short to intermediate throws.
This is just part of the reason why Demaryius Thomas has turned into a raw, physically gifted wide receiver, to a yearly member of the elites in fantasy football.
We definitely anticipated growth in the former Georgia Tech product, but his leap to 94 receptions, 1,434 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in his first season with The Sheriff probably exceeded the hopes and dreams of fantasy owners that took a chance on him.
After all, he had just six touchdowns combined in his previous two seasons and had missed 11 games in his first two seasons due to injury issues. Add in that a guy who had sat out the previous season with serious neck problems was going to suddenly be tossing him passes, and there was legit reason for concern.
That type of legit uncertainty kept Thomas from being taken among the top five fantasy receivers in 2012. Or the top 10. Or the top 20.
Yes, the eventual stud WR1 was the #22 wide receiver taken in drafts on average that year. Fantasy owners would later kick themselves for taking disappointing receivers like Mike Wallace and Larry Fitzgerald ahead of him.
They wouldn’t make the same mistake again heading into the 2013 season, as it was made clear that Manning was healthy and ready to rip it in his second season. And if it wasn’t clear that Thomas was ready to breakout, his 2012 campaign showed that, good and well.
Naturally the duo was set up for more success in 2013, and fantasy owners drafted accordingly. Thomas understandably vaulted from the 22nd overall wide receiver to number six, on average.
After the dust settled on Denver’s insane, record-breaking 2013 season, Thomas finished just 0.4 points behind Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, the top receiver in fantasy football.
It wasn’t Calvin Johnson and it wasn’t any of the other guys everyone drafted before Thomas. It was Josh Gordon on a freak year (who is facing a likely season ban, FYI) and then Thomas.
So, when you look at Thomas and the fantasy draft scene, answering whether or not he can or should be the top-rated fantasy receiver is pretty easy.
Absolutely he can, and perhaps he should. The latter isn’t a complete one-way answer, as it’s still entirely possible Calvin Johnson reclaims his throne, while those same guys everyone drafted over Thomas inside the top-five still could do the same.
It’s also not entirely plausible that the Broncos turn around and put up the same crazy numbers they did a year ago. Naturally, defenses will adjust, Manning won’t be quite so amazing and the stats won’t be quite as good, overall.
But that doesn’t mean Thomas won’t be an elite WR1, and a minor downgrade doesn’t mean the Broncos still won’t be disgustingly good, either.
Manning tossed 55 touchdowns and put up over 5,400 passing yards last year. Over 1,400 of those yards went to Thomas and he got 14 touchdowns in the process.
If Denver has just a mild drop off to Manning putting up 40 touchdowns and 4,500 passing yards, is Thomas really likely to suffer? The logic says no.
Going into last season, there was some minor concern that the addition of slot receiver Wes Welker could hinder Thomas. It aided him.
That’s just two catches less than his 2012 breakout season, and he still put up over 1,400 receiving yards for the second straight year and even found a way to score four more times.
Thomas is just 26 years old, still has Manning, is operating in an awesome offense and even got more help in Emmanuel Sanders and rookie receiver Cody Latimer. Those guys aren’t coming in to steal targets away from Thomas, either. They’re merely there as long-term replacements for Welker, as well as to help replace the departed Eric Decker.
So far the mock drafters are showing they agree. Thomas still hasn’t worked his way quite up to the top spot at wide receiver, but he’s going in round one on average, just four slots behind Calvin Johnson.
Fantasy football is a transition league. It’s extremely fluid and things change daily and weekly, and quite clearly yearly, as well. The change for Thomas is good, though. He’s getting better fundamentally seemingly every day and everything around him right now is perfectly set up to help him succeed.
The translation here is another huge season and expecting anything less than what he’s been doing the past two years would be selling Thomas short. In fact, there’s every reason to think he could be even better as he enters just his fifth season and third with Manning.
One other aspect in play here is the name game. People get overly attached to numbers from the previous season, minor injuries and the names of big stars. Just because Calvin Johnson is Calvin Johnson and has finished #1 at his position in two out of the last four seasons doesn’t mean he will in 2014. He didn’t last year, after all.
That doesn’t mean Thomas is a locked and loaded #1 overall player at the wide receiver position, but it absolutely puts him in the conversation. In other words, if you’re sitting there on the clock and it’s down to Johnson or Thomas, no one should roll their eyes when you pick an elite talent that operates out of the league’s best offense.