What did the Texans Get in Demaryius Thomas?

Jayson Braddock on Oct. 31, 2018

On Tuesday, October 30th, hours before the NFL trade deadline was set to expire, the Texans acquired five-time Pro Bowl selection, Demaryius Thomas, from the Denver Broncos. It needs to be said, all of this is pending a physical before it’s official. Assuming Thomas passes the physical, he’ll join the Texans, who, coincidentally are scheduled to travel to Denver to take on Thomas’ former team, err, current team. I have no clue until after the results of the physical.

Does Thomas even fly to Houston for the physical? Seems redundant. What if he fails the physical? Is this the reverse Robert Horry-Matt Bullard trade? Rockets fans will remember when Horry and Bullard were traded for Sean Elliott. Elliott failed the physical, so, Horry and Bullard returned to Houston as the trade was voided. Horry became more aggressive and the rest is history.

Okay, obviously, I got a little sidetracked with nostalgia. Assuming Thomas passes the physical and joins the Texans, the question moves to “How will it work out?” We could turn to Twitter where there is tons of instant reaction from people that quickly Google stats and records, but what if you wanted to dig deeper and ask “What’s the whole story?” I’m not sure if I can get into the entire story, but I’ll look at some areas of concerns and other areas of optimism regarding Thomas the Texan. 

The first question is always: compensation. The Texans will receive Demaryius Thomas and will flip spots in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft with the Denver Broncos, along with sending Denver the Texans’ 2019 fourth round pick. Flipping seventh round picks is a footnote on this deal and is basically the equivalent of the pickle that they include with the packaging of your sandwich order at most delis. The meat of the deal is obviously, the fourth-round selection.

Fourth-round selections are usually viewed as developmental players with backup potential, special teams, and/or potential ability to become a starter. Demaryius Thomas is a needed puzzle piece, an upgrade over the current roster choices, and a no-brainer for a team that is in the thick of the playoff race in the AFC and looks to move into a stranglehold position on the AFC South, with the Broncos, basically, pulling out the white flag and sending Thomas to their opponent for this week.

So, not only do the Texans get an extended break after their Thursday Night win over the Dolphins, they now find an above-average starter who will be an instant weapon for the young quarterback, Deshaun Watson, who gets the most out of every player. That will sound like music to the ears of Demaryius Thomas, who has lived the inverse career of his new teammate, DeAndre Hopkins, to this point.

While Hopkins played with guys that would be great in the CFL, he didn’t get a franchise quarterback until 2017, and yet, he still produced. The question has been asked, what would Hopkins’ numbers look like if he had a quarterback like Deshaun Watson throughout his career?  Well, look no further than Demaryius Thomas’ early career success. After playing for the best regular season quarterback of all-time, Peyton Manning, Thomas received passes from the scraps of NFL quarterbacks, which rivaled the level of passers that Hopkins saw B.D. (Before Deshaun.) 

In the Case of Keenum (apologies) and Brock Osweiler, they received the same inconsistency and still performed, even if it was not at their peak.

We can delve into the financials of the deal a little later, but with all of the talk of Thomas losing a step and falling off, I was curious as if this was “group think” based on lack of production or factual. To try to form a researched opinion, I have compared the stats that Demaryius Thomas put up within the seasons in which Peyton Manning was the quarterback primarily, as opposed to when he wasn’t. Is the influx in numbers more about the accuracy of the pass, protection, etc.? Or has Demaryius Thomas truly lost a step at age 30?

Demaryius Thomas

2010 -  22 receptions  -  39 targets  -  283 yards  -  12.9 apc  -  2 TDs

QBs  -  Kyle Orton / Tim Tebow (Rookie year for DT and only played in 10 games)

2011 -  32 receptions  -  70 targets  -  551 yards  -  17.2 apc  -  4 TDs

QBs  -  Kyle Orton / Tim Tebow  (Missed first 5 games of the season)

2012 -  94 receptions  -  141 targets  -  1,434 yards  -  15.3 apc  -  10 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning

2013 -  92 receptions  -  142 targets  -  1,430 yards  -  15.5 apc  -  14 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning

2014 -  111 receptions  -  184 targets  -  1,619 yards  -  14.6 apc  -  11 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning

2015 -  105 receptions  -  177 targets  -  1,304 yards  -  12.4 apc  -  6 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler both split the season almost evenly

2016 -  90 receptions  -  144 targets  -  1,083 yards  -  12.0 apc  -  5 TDs

QBs  -  Trevor Siemian / Paxton Lynch

2017 -  83 receptions  -  140 targets  -  949 yards  -  11.4 apc  -  5 TDs

QBs  -  Trevor Siemian / Paxton Lynch / Brock Osweiler

2018 -  36 receptions  -  56 targets  -  402 yards  -  11.2 apc  -  3 TDs

QBs  -  Case Keenum (through 8 games)

If we are saying that Thomas lost a step because of the lack of production this season, then we would have to say that he lost that step after 2014. He was 27 years old after that season. Is it perhaps more believable that when Peyton Manning declined during the 2015 season and Brock Osweiler started over half of the games, that the decline may have come from horrific quarterback play? 

After being inactive in a combined 11 games over his first two NFL seasons, Thomas is the NFL active Ironman at the wide receiver position with 115 consecutive games played. The next closest is Golden Tate with 102, who, oddly enough, was also traded on Tuesday. Tate went to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a 2019 third round pick.

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Thomas is also the NFL Ironman at the receiver position for consecutive starts, with 104. He almost doubles the next closest on the list, and almost quadruples the player who is third on the list.  

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DeAndre Hopkins would come in at number two on this list if he hadn’t sat out a meaningless Week 17 game against the Colts at the end of last season. Going into that game, Hopkins had started every game of his career since entering the NFL. He was 79 of 79. He’s currently started 87 of a possible 88 games in his career.

It’s easy to see why Brian Gaine, Bill O’Brien, and the Texans decided to add Demaryius Thomas, opposite Hopkins. In Thomas, the Texans may not have added a replacement that displays Will Fuller’s 4.3 speed, but one strength Thomas has over Fuller is being able to stay on the field, and he does that better than anyone at his position.

After watching a little bit of film on Demaryius Thomas from the 2018 season, I believe that he’ll be able to fill a role similar to what Sammy Watkins provided for Kansas City against the Broncos last week. 

While it’s true that Thomas may not take the top off in the same manner as Fuller, there are several other areas that he can contribute in immediately:

- Versus Off-man, he’ll thrive in hitches and rolling outs.

- He can still kill with a double move to get over the top. (Watch late 2nd quarter vs. Jets where the safety was dead, but gets away with a blatant two-handed hit to the chest of Thomas to slow momentum enough to stop the would-be walk-in touchdown.)

- He can find dead spots in the zone with ease.

- He has good physical separation at the top of the route.

- In all seriousness, he is now one of the Texans’ best blockers. He can inline on down blocks like an extra tight end to assist with the running game, and he can throw off defenses with the personnel grouping.

- Slant and drags: my evaluation on Deshaun Watson coming out of college mentioned that his number one strength when throwing is the quick, accurate slant. The 6’3 - 230 pound Thomas will thrive on this, and drags underneath with physical yards after catch.

- Texans’ red zone struggles will receive a boost with another big target that can make contested catches, despite struggles with drops. He’ll also assist with blocking on quick screens, run routes, and down blocks from the slot.

After the brief film study, digging around on drop of production and thinking through his possible fit with the Texans, I would easily say that this was a no-brainer for the Texans. I would go even further by saying that I would be shocked if he’s not extended with the Texans or at the very least play through the 2019 season with the Texans.

If I were to have one concern with Thomas and his immediate fit, it would be in the area of option routes. We’ve seen numerous star receivers struggle in offenses with option routes. It’s not a major concern for me, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some miscues between Watson and Thomas early on.

In my opinion, the Texans just moved up to being the second-best team in the AFC, behind Kansas City and ahead of the Chargers and then the Patriots. The Texans killed two birds with one stone in the acquisition of Thomas as they also weakened the Patriots by not allowing them to pick up the much-needed, big-bodied receiver for the aging Brady.

Instead, Houston’s offense will be 3-D (Deshaun, DeAndre, and Demaryius) the rest of this season.

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