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Scouting Jets wide receiver Demaryius Thomas

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NFL: Preseason-New York Giants at New England Patriots Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

With the regular season underway, we’re going to be looking at the players the Jets have added since cutdown day, continuing today with Demaryius Thomas.

Thomas is a 31-year old wide receiver who was a first-round pick out of Georgia Tech in 2010. He has spent most of his career with the Denver Broncos, racking up almost 700 catches, over 9,000 yards and 62 touchdowns in regular season action. Thomas is a five-time pro bowler and two-time second-team all-pro.

Background

Thomas went to college at Georgia Tech, following in the footsteps of Calvin Johnson who had graduated before Thomas’ freshman year. Georgia Tech operated a run-heavy triple option system so Thomas didn’t get that many opportunities compared with some of the nation’s other top receivers. However, he broke out with a school record 230 yards in a game against Duke in his sophomore year.

As a junior, Thomas was featured more and posted career highs with 46 catches, 1,154 yards and eight touchdowns. He opted to enter the draft at the end of his junior season, finishing his college career with 120 catches, 2,339 yards and 15 touchdowns in three seasons.

Despite being injured at the combine, Thomas was drafted in the first round by the Broncos and made an immediate impact with eight catches for 97 yards and a touchdown in his first NFL game. However, he was plagued by injuries and only caught 14 more passes all season.

Further injury issues limited him to five starts in his second season, as he caught 32 passes. However, he broke out in 2012, catching 94 passes for over 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns as he went to the first of five consecutive pro bowls.

With Adam Gase as his offensive coordinator in 2013, Thomas caught a career high 14 touchdown passes. Then, in 2014, Thomas set career highs with 111 catches and 1,619 yards.

After Gase’s departure, he had a 105-catch season in 2015 but his numbers have been in decline since then. In his first eight years with the Broncos, he had five thousand-yard seasons and three seasons with 10 or more touchdown receptions.

Last season, Thomas was traded to the Texans in the middle of the season and ended up with 59 receptions, but then suffered a torn Achilles in late December.

Thomas signed with New England during the offseason but spent most of training camp on the PUP list as he rehabbed that injury. He played in one preseason game and then was released and re-signed before eventually being traded to the Jets for a future late-rounder.

Now let’s take a look at what Thomas brings to the table, divided into categories.

Measurables/Athleticism

Thomas has excellent size, long arms and big hands to provide a big target and is obviously strong.

He didn’t do a combine or pro day workout but his 40-speed was projected at 4.42 by NFL Draft Scout and he has shown an ability to run away from defenders at the NFL level. However, he’s almost certainly lost a step over the course of his career with some of the injuries he’s endured.

Usage

Thomas primarily played and produced on the outside in the early part of his career but has been increasingly productive out of the slot in recent years. It accounted for about a quarter of his production last year and he had five touchdowns from the slot back in 2014.

Part of this is simply the fact that employing larger receivers out of the slot has been en vogue since about 2015, but it’s also a sign that Thomas may be transitioning towards being more of a possession receiver than a dynamic outside threat.

Thomas has carried the ball three times in his career, but all of these were in his first two seasons.

Deep threat

Thomas has been a big play threat over the course of his career, but his output as a downfield receiver has been diminishing. He only caught four passes on throws more than 20 yards downfield last season.

He’s probably more of a threat on back shoulder throws than going over the top at this stage of his career, as he showed in preseason.

Routes

Thomas’ injuries could have an impact on his ability to break sharply when running routes, but he looked pretty smooth in preseason, breaking outside on a couple of timing routes and showing he can still break down on this back shoulder throw.

Due to his excellent size, Thomas doesn’t even need to get a step on his man to be open because he can just box out his defender.

At Georgia Tech, Thomas wouldn’t have run a full route tree, but he developed his route running abilities with the Broncos - although Peyton Manning tends to shy away from throwing corner routes.

Hands

Thomas has always been a pretty sure-handed receiver and his 68 percent catch rate last season was one of the best of his career. That may just have been a symptom of the fact he wasn’t given as many low percentage downfield targets though.

He’s capable of going up to get it, making catches in traffic and going to ground or tapping his toes to stay inbounds near the sideline. He has also shown a knack for highlight reel one-handed catches over the years.

Thomas has dropped a lot of passes during his career, but his drop rate has never been higher than 11 percent other than in 2011. He dropped a career-high 14 passes in 2015, but that was a year when he was targeted 189 times so it was an acceptable rate. In 2018, he dropped seven passes in 87 targets.

He has fumbled 12 times in his career, losing 10. He also had this fumble in preseason.

Red zone

Of Thomas’ 62 touchdown catches in regular season action, 39 have come from in the red zone, including eight from inside the three-yard line. In postseason action, five of his six touchdowns have come from inside the red zone with the one exception being his famous 80-yard touchdown catch and run on a Tim Tebow pass to beat the Steelers in overtime.

With his size, Thomas can box out his defender at the goal line or go up to get a high throw at the back of the end zone or on a fade route.

The Patriots tried to get the ball to him on this two-point conversion in preseason but it was unsuccessful.

Yards after the catch

Thomas’ numbers for yards after the catch have also been falling. His best five seasons in that metric were his first five seasons. The last five have been less impressive and his numbers for broken tackles have also fallen significantly.

This play could be a sign of how he’s lost some dynamism in space due to the injuries and he also lost a yard on his only reception in his Jets debut.

However, he did show some abilities to get upfield on receiver screens last season and still showed some capabilities to elude tacklers.

Blocking

Unsurprisingly, having come from Georgia Tech, Thomas has some good blocking skills and tends to use his size to overwhelm defensive backs on the outside.

In preseason, he showed some good effort on this play, although poor blocking elsewhere meant that the run didn’t go very far.

He’s been called for holding twice and had one flag for illegal block below the waist during his career.

Physicality

As you’d expect, Thomas is physical when running routes, at the catch point and when carrying the ball or undertaking blocking assignments. During his career, he’s been called for offensive pass interference 10 times.

He showed good physicality on this play in preseason, shrugging off an obvious missed defensive holding call and hanging onto this third down conversion in traffic.

Instincts

Thomas has good experience and his familiarity with Gase’s system should benefit him with the Jets.

He shows excellent instincts on this play as he doesn’t initially get the ball but finds an open area once the play gets extended.

Thomas can be prone to lapses in concentration, as he’s been called for 12 pre-snap penalties in his career.

He is obviously smart because he had an impressive score of 34 in the Wonderlic test.

Special Teams

Thomas won’t be expected to contribute anything on special teams. He did serve as a kick returner in his rookie year, though, averaging just under 25 yards per return.

Attitude

The Jets will be hopeful that Thomas can help some of the Jets receivers to operate better within Gase’s system. For what it’s worth, Bill O’Brien referred to Thomas as an excellent pro and a good mentor.

Despite having a tough upbringing that saw his mother and grandmother incarcerated for drugs charges, Thomas hasn’t had any off-field issues other than some legal issues in 2010 when a teammate was accused of sexual assault.

On the field, he’s had 26 penalties in his career, but only two personal fouls - one for grabbing the face mask and one for unsportsmanlike conduct - so discipline hasn’t been a major issue. The unsportsmanlike penalty was for taunting as he backpedaled into the end zone after out-muscling a defensive back for the catch.

Injuries

Thomas’ return from an Achilles tear is far from guaranteed, although he did return earlier than expected from the same injury back in 2011. He suffered the injury in February and was expected to miss the entire season but ended up returning before the end of October.

As a rookie, he dealt with an injury to his forearm and concussion issues and in 2012 he had to have pins placed in a broken pinkie finger. His durability was better since then, although he reportedly toughed out a separated shoulder in the Super Bowl in January 2014. He eventually caught 13 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown, although the Seahawks won in a blowout.

He’s currently dealing with a hamstring injury which he aggravated during the game. He originally picked it up in the first practice after New England re-signed him following preseason and it limited him in practice in the lead-up to the Browns game.

Scheme Fit

Thomas should be an obvious scheme fit, as Gase has already stated he still recalls all the terminology and what’s required of him.

He was a teammate of Ryan Griffin last season, giving him at least one familiar face to make him feel at home. Braxton Berrios was his teammate in preseason too.

Conclusions

Getting Thomas was a necessary move with Quincy Enunwa out for the season and Chris Herndon suspended. However, you could be forgiven for being skeptical that Bill Belichick would ever trade a player to the Jets if he thought he could help them. With Thomas injured already, it’s unlikely he’ll contribute much, if anything, by the time Herndon returns in week six.

In preseason, Thomas only played one-and-a-half quarters and racked up seven catches for 87 yards and two scores on eight targets. Impressive stuff. However, it came in the final preseason game against Giants’ reserves.

While he did show some flashes of the old Demaryius Thomas, it’s unclear whether that was really a convincing enough display to make anyone believe Thomas is anything like back to his old self.

Back in 2011, the Jets signed a former perennial thousand yard receiver with pro bowl experience on the downside of his career but who had still caught 60 passes in the previous season. That was Derrick Mason and the move was a huge let down.

However, in 2015, the Jets signed a past-his-prime former Broncos pro bowler that had a monster impact with them. That was Brandon Marshall.

Hopefully Thomas’ addition will ultimate have more in common with Marshall’s than Mason’s in terms of its immediate impact. Early returns are far from convincing though.