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What You Need to Know:
- Thomas matched or set 6-year lows in catches (83), yards (949) and TDs (5) last year, finishing 16th among WRs in PPR points and 23rd in non-PPR.
- He dealt with poor QB play on a Broncos team that ranked 20th or worse in passing yards, TDs, completion rate and yards per attempt.
- Thomas’ play also seemingly dropped off, though. He turned 30 in December.
- He gets a QB upgrade in Case Keenum this season and remains a safe bet for heavy volume.
What went wrong in 2017?
Thomas set 6-year lows with 83 catches and 949 yards last year. He matched a 6-year low with 5 TDs. And that was despite seeing a healthy 140 targets. His 59.3% catch rate tied for his 2nd worst mark since 2011. And his 11.4 yards per catch was a career low.
Thomas, of course, dealt with poor QB play from Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch. Denver ranked 20th in passing yards, 25th in TDs, 27th in completion rate and 27th in yards per attempt.
So the question is how much of Thomas’ relatively disappointing 2017 season was a result of his QBs and how much was a result of his own play. It can be tough to separate a WR from his QBs, but we’ll try …
Thomas averaged 6.78 yards per target last year. That was .4 yards — or 6.3% — better than the rest of Denver’s pass-catchers post. Let’s compare that to the difference between Thomas and his teammates’ yards per target the previous 5 years:
While Thomas was more efficient than his teammates in 2017, the gap between them was the smallest it’s been over the past 6 years. That suggests there was at least some decline in Thomas’ play.
Football Outsiders agrees — kinda. The site has never looked kindly on Thomas’ play and didn’t last year. Here are Thomas’ ranks in DVOA over the past 6 years:
Pro Football Focus wasn’t overly impressed by Thomas last year, either. The site ranked him 46th out of 116 WRs in its overall and receiving grades. His overall grade was the lowest since his 2010 rookie campaign.
So it’s safe to say Thomas’ play wasn’t up to its usual standard last season. At 30 years old, it’s possible he’s now in permanent decline. Or 2017 could just be a 1-year blip.
The Broncos seemingly believe in the latter. They exercised Thomas’ $4 million option this offseason which keeps him in Denver on $12.5 million and $14 million salaries the next 2 years. Only 8 WRs are making more in terms of average annual salary.
Denver also upgraded at QB — although perhaps not as drastically as some were hoping — by inking Case Keenum to a 2-year, $36 million deal. Keenum is coming off a career year in Minnesota that saw him complete 67.6% of his passes with 22 TDs vs. just 7 INTs. That followed 5 uninspiring seasons to begin his NFL career. But if Keenum can even perform somewhere in between those 2 extremes in 2018, he’ll be a big upgrade over what Denver had at QB last season.
Thomas also remains a safe volume bet. He’s seen 140+ targets in 6 straight seasons, ranking 2nd behind only Antonio Brown with 930 total targets over that stretch. The Broncos added WRs Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton in this spring’s draft, but neither figures to threaten Thomas’ role this year.
One more mark in his favor: Thomas has played all 16 games in 6 straight seasons. He’s the only WR in the league who can say that.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line:
Thomas is coming off his worst season in 6 years, finishing with 83 catches, 949 yards and 5 scores. While shoddy QB play was partly to blame, there are also reasons to believe Thomas’ play dropped off. It’s possible he’s in decline at 30 years old.
But it’s also possible 2017 was a 1-year blip. He gets a QB upgrade this season in Case Keenum, remains a safe volume bet and hasn’t missed a game in 6 years.
Even in a disappointing season, Thomas still ranked 16th among WRs in PPR points (23rd in non-PPR). That makes him a relatively safe bet at his May ADP of WR20. We’ll see if that climbs throughout the summer.