In the young stages of the 2014 NFL season, Denver Broncos wide receiver, Demaryius Thomas, has not looked himself. He has struggled to create separation in his routes and has lacked that explosive edge that we're accustomed to seeing from the 5th-year pro.
This is a particularly surprising development, because in back-to-back seasons, he has posted 90+ receptions, 1,400+ yards, and double digit touchdowns. His combined stats from 2012-2013? 186 receptions, 2,864 yards, and 24 touchdowns. Wow.
That level of consistent, prolific production just happens to coincide with the arrival of Peyton Manning to Denver. Right out of the gates, Manning helped Thomas to develop and understand route concepts and read coverages. Manning tapped into Thomas' vast potential as a talented young wide-out. As a result, he has been Manning's favorite target.
In that two-year span, Thomas has been elected to two Pro Bowls and has one All-Pro (2nd Team) selection under his belt. And yet, so far this season, he has struggled to make a difference in the Broncos passing game. His biggest issue has been drops. On the season, he's been targeted 27 times. He's only managed to haul in 13 of those targets, and he's dropped 4, which ties him for 1st in the NFL for that ignoble statistic.
Factoring in his recent history as one of the NFL's premier receivers, and his mind-meld with Manning, the question is, why is Thomas struggling in 2014? The answer is of great importance to both Broncos Country, and fantasy owners.
The answer is complicated. Some have surmised that Thomas isn't giving 100% of his effort, as a way to protest his contract situation with the Broncos, or lack thereof. John Elway entered into negotiations with Thomas and his agent earlier this off-season. Per Elway, the team hoped to get him signed before the preseason games began, because they don't like to negotiate during the season. At the time, Elway said this via the Denver Post.
"We've already talked to them to see if we can do something before the beginning of the year. We'd like to get something done before the beginning of camp. We don't want to do anything once training camp starts. They're both in their last years, and we'd like for them to stay and be Broncos for a long time."
Elway is also referring to tight end, Julius Thomas, who is also in the last year of his rookie deal. However, as training camp came to an end, Thomas and the Broncos were unable to come to an agreement on a new deal. Thomas chose to let his agent focus on the contract, while he focused on the only thing he could control; his performance on the field.
The Broncos will find a way to get a deal done with Thomas. There's no question. But it likely won't be until after the 2014 season. I feel that his contract situation has not been the issue for Thomas. One thing that may be contributing to his seeming lack of production, is a loss he suffered in his personal life.
At the beginning of August, Thomas lost his grandmother, a woman who helped to raise him. Thomas had a very trouble childhood, losing both his mother and his maternal grandmother to significant prison sentences. Losing his paternal grandmother was certainly a huge blow. And not one easily overcome. NFL players might be professionals, but let us not forget, they're also human beings.
The most likely factor ailing Thomas thus far, has been a foot injury. Not much was known about his injured foot until just a few days before the Seahawks game. The root of explosion in every NFL player is the foot. And for a guy Thomas' size (6'3, 229lbs), it takes a lot of energy to animate that big frame. For a wide receiver, who relies on explosion to gain separation at the line of scrimmage, and break on balls, a foot injury, even if minor, can have a crippling effect.
Such has been the case with Thomas. Fortunately, the Broncos bye week came at the most opportune time for him. This last week has given him the chance to rest his foot and recharge his batteries, both physical and mental. With the team's next matchup in week 5 coming vs the undefeated Arizona Cardinals and one of the league's premier cornerbacks in Patrick Peterson, Thomas has his work cut out for him.
I wouldn't worry about him. He'll get his foot back to 100%. I have no doubt that he'll throw up another season of close to 90 receptions and more than 1,000 yards. Manning knows how to get the most out his skill-position players. And that's not suddenly going to change with Thomas.