Can Demaryius Thomas Return To His Dominant Form Of Years Past?

On a team in transition, the Broncos need Demaryius Thomas to step up in 2017. But is Thomas past his prime? Adam Uribes evaluates.

Since he was drafted in 2010, Demaryius Thomas has endured a love/hate relationship with Broncos Country. His supporters will point to his freakish size and big-play skill-set, able to take a simple slant route or bubble screen to the house on any given play. Thomas' detractors, however, point to his drops in crucial situations or his quiet, almost passive behavior that runs counter to the expected behavior a team captain.

One of the best wideouts to ever don the Orange and Blue, Thomas holds 16 Denver Broncos records, including most receiving yards in a season, a single game and touchdowns. In addition to those accolades, Thomas is four-time Pro Bowler, a two-time second-team All-Pro and Super Bowl champion. Considering that he plays the same position as past greats like Rod Smith, Brandon Marshall and Lionel Taylor, Thomas enjoys a lofty status with both the team and around the league. For all those accomplishments and for as much of a physical talent as he is, even Thomas’ most ardent supporters will admit that his play sometimes leaves them asking for more. Thomas has the ability to take your breath away when he takes a five-yard slant and out races defenders for a long score. In the same game, however, he can make you roll your eyes when he drops an easy pass without a defender within three yards of him.

It wasn’t a notion that was lost on new Head Coach Vance Joseph, as he expressed that his expectations of Thomas were going to increase this season. When the topic of his Pro Bowl wide receiver came up, Joseph pulled no punches in what he would be demanding from Thomas.

“I want him to be a dominant player all the time," Joseph said. "I don’t want him to ease into games. I want him to step out and be a guy.”

It’s commendable on the part of Joseph to hold Thomas accountable for his lapses in play and it’s been one of the biggest departures from his two most recent predecessors, Gary Kubiak and John Fox. Too often it seemed to outsiders that both of the past regimes were willing to let Thomas rest on his laurels as one of the best offensive players on the team.

While that still holds true, Joseph continues to put his fingerprints on his new job, expecting his new charges to demand more out of themselves and their teammates.

It’s scary to think what a motivated Thomas could do, despite the kind of numbers he has put up over the past three seasons. Thomas looked to be on his way to a big year last season, based on his showings in training camp and the preseason.

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Were it not for a nagging hip injury suffered early on in the year, and average quarterback play from Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, we might have seen the more familiar campaign we've become accustomed to seeing from Thomas, and not the version that has left some fans wondering if Thomas is past his prime.

Still, for as dominant as Thomas was under the care of Peyton Manning, it’s hard to find other receivers in the league who wouldn’t trade in their seasons to have the type of year that Thomas had in 2016. Despite being hurt and not always knowing when he would see the rock thrown to him, Thomas was able to gather in 90 balls for 1,083 yards and five scores.

Looking at those numbers and taking into account the less than stellar quarterback play Thomas has had to deal with the past two seasons, the criticisms lobbed against him seem to be either unfair or exaggerated.

2017 will be a season of transition for the Broncos. From unexpectedly missing the playoffs to seeing a beloved coach step away from his post just one season after winning a Lombardi Trophy, has many fans and media alike wondering where the Broncos will fit into an AFC landscape that has already seen rivals — New England and Oakland — take steps to improve from last year.  

Questions will continue to swirl on which guy will quarterback this team next season and what improvements the Joseph regime can coax out of a talented roster in order to get them back to the postseason. But if Thomas can find his 2013 form and avoid the injury bug, it’ll help out whomever is throwing him the ball and elevate a team that needs him to play like the dominant superstar we are all hoping he can be.

Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.

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