When Demaryius Thomas came out of Georgia Tech in 2010, there were some perceived flaws in the wide receiver’s game as it projected to the professional level.
Four years later, Thomas, at 6-foot-3 and a chiseled 229 pounds, has buffed his rough edges and is a fine diamond set to cash in with big lucrative contract from the Denver Broncos.
Recently, the team approached him about a five-year extension.
He’s set to make $3.27 million in 2014, the final year of his rookie contract. John Elway, the Broncos president and general manager, would like to have Thomas’ deal completed before training camp starts in order to keep him from reaching free agency.
With a market-value contract, Thomas, 26, appears set to at least move into another former Tech wide receiver’s neighborhood. Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson is the highest paid wide receiver in the NFL with average per year of $16.2 million.
Johnson is followed by Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald ($16.1 million), Seattle’s Percy Harvin ($12.8 million), Miami’s Mike Wallace ($12 million), Kansas City’s Dewayne Bowe ($11.2 million), Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson ($11.1 million) and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall ($10 million).
After two seasons of more than 90 catches, 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns, while playing with the great Peyton Manning, Thomas is in line for a major pay increase.
“There is not a ceiling,” said Todd France, the Atlanta-based super agent, who represents Thomas, who was in town to participate in his firm’s free youth football at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School.
While preparing for the draft, several draftniks didn’t know how to project Thomas’ obvious physical gifts. He initially was under-rated in part because of Tech’s offense.
Ourlads scouting service projected Thomas to be a second- or third-round pick.
“Big receiver in a run first spread triple option offense,” according to Ourlads. “Big play receiver that had seven of his catches go for at least 50 yards in 2009. Will reach and extend for the ball outside his frame. Average quickness off the line of scrimmage to beat bump coverage and burst upfield to separate.”
Thomas also had a fractured foot and some other perceived handicaps.
“Will need work on reading coverages and adjusting his routes according to the play,” according to Ourlads. “Long strider that picks up speed as he goes down the field.”
The Broncos weaved through the information and analytics and selected Thomas with the 22nd pick overall. He was signed to a five-year, $12.155 million contract July 31, 2010. A total of $9.35 million was guaranteed.
As a rookie, Thomas was slowed by injuries and played in only 10 games. He had 22 catches for 283 yards.
In 2011, he made some strides as he finished the season with 32 catches for 551 yards and four touchdowns. He showed signs of being a game-changer in the playoffs against Pittsburgh when he caught a Tim Tebow pass on the first play of overtime and scored from 80 yards away.
When Manning arrived, Thomas’ numbers skyrocketed.
“With Peyton coming off the neck injury, my first day out of the field with them, I noticed something different in him from any other quarterback that I played with,” Thomas said on “The Rick and Jamie Show” on 92.9 The Game on Tuesday. “He wasn’t the strongest at the time because he was still trying to get better. As the year went on, he just got better and better. And this year he still looks better at the age of 38.”
He caught 94 passes for 1,424 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012. Last season, he had 92 catches for 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Thomas is the first to acknowledge that he’s learned a lot of football from Manning.
“I thought I knew a lot, but to sit in meetings and watching film, I’ve learned so much,” Thomas said. “Now, when I get on the field some stuff just seems so easy. It’s like you can see what’s going to happen before the play happens.
“I know where to be at and at the right time. I know my sight adjustments. I know when to switch my route up. Just being around him just makes you a better player all-around.”
In Super Bowl XLVIII, Thomas set the record for most receptions with 13 in the Broncos’ losing effort and tied the mark for most receptions in the first half with seven.
“We all have different skill sets, and Demaryius is just a guy who has a lot of athletic ability,” said Jets receiver Eric Decker, who played with Thomas in Denver over the past four seasons. “He can run. He can jump. He can catch. He can do all of things you need to do at the wide receiver position.”
Thomas was driven by personal circumstances and the naysayers, who contended Tech couldn’t produce another top-flight receiver running an option-offense.
“Just watching him grow over the last four years as a route-runner and figuring out how to read defenses has really set him apart from being good and going to great,” Decker said. “He’s been able to stay healthy and is very, very durable.”
Decker left in part because the Broncos couldn’t tie up both receivers with big-money deals. Decker, who was drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft by the Broncos, signed a five-year, $36.25 million contract with $15 million guaranteed with the Jets during free agency.
“I loved playing with him,” Decker said. “He’s going to have a long and successful career.”
Thomas has put himself in a good position.
“As a player, I don’t think he’s remotely scratched the surface of where his ability is going to be in years to come,” France said. “To be honest with, whether Peyton Manning is throwing him the ball or Tim Tebow is throwing him the ball, his production was through the roof.
“It’s nice to have a Peyton Manning throwing him the ball, but you have to give a ton of the credit to the receiver, especially when you look at his yards after the catch and everything else. He’s practically unstoppable.”