The 2015 season was a far cry from Demaryius Thomas run of three straight top-5 fantasy finishes. Thomas is now the 16th wideout off the board in MFL10s; this is a massive drop from last year, when he was the fifth WR selected. A closer look at last year’s production and this year’s QB situation will reveal that he could be a bargain in this year’s drafts.
Despite seeing the fourth most targets in the league (with the quarterback duo of an aging, injured Peyton Manning and the inaccurate Brock Osweiler), Thomas turned in the 15th best fantasy point per game average by a WR. He was the most inefficient WR to finish in the top 10 in total points and it wasn’t even close.
|Odell Beckham Jr.||NYG||158||0.272||226.41||92.99||0.59|
Last year had to be the most disappointing WR9 finish in recent memory. As you compare last year’s stats to previous seasons, you can see where his output bottomed out.
There’s the narrative that a rapidly declining Manning was impeding Thomas’ fantasy production, but a closer look at his splits between the first half to the second half of the season tell quite a different story.
2015: A Tale of Two Seasons
The eight game split is a convenient cutoff, as the Broncos ninth game was the disaster versus the Chiefs that saw an injured Manning throw four interceptions and get benched until the final game of the regular season. The second eight game split is almost entirely Osweiler save for a combined three receptions on five targets for 33 yards from Manning in games 9 and 16.
Thomas was superior in nearly every category with Manning through the first eight games (we’ll get to touchdowns in a minute). With Manning under center, Thomas had considerably more receptions and yards, with much greater yards per target and catch rate. To anyone that watched the games, it was clear that Manning was not his old self, yet Thomas was still producing incredible numbers. This pace would have put him third in receptions and fifth in yards at year’s end! Thomas’ first eight games aren’t that dissimilar from Keenan Allen’s.
What hindered Thomas’ fantasy season was his inability to score touchdowns with Manning as his quarterback. Manning’s Touchdown Rate of 2.7 percent was 32nd of 35 qualified passers; only Colin Kaepernick, Nick Foles, and Ryan Mallet were worse. Thomas was affected by this greatly as he only turned one of his 98 targets from Manning into a touchdown. A 1.08% TD rate on targets from Manning would have been the worst for any receiver who actually scored a touchdown in 2015 (you’re off the hook with your 1.09 percent, Davante Adams). Thomas only saw seven red zone targets, catching five without scoring, from Manning through those first eight games.
According to Pro Football Reference Thomas red zone market share was 15.2 percent, a considerable drop off from the previous three year average of 26.5 percent. From 2012-2014 he saw 21, 19, and 39 red zone targets respectively. Manning’s league worst 5.1 percent interception rate ended drives preemptively, limiting Thomas’ red zone opportunities.
In the second half of the season, Thomas was finally able to score, securing five of his six touchdowns with Osweiler as his quarterback. This included a seven yard out that he turned into a 72 yard touchdown in Week 17, useless for most fantasy owners but I can’t help but wonder if the story line on his season would’ve changed had this touchdown come in Week 16 leading owners to a championship, but I digress. Three of his touchdowns came inside the red zone where he returned to dominating the market share at 37 percent. But if you refer back to the splits, Osweiler’s inaccuracy hindered Thomas in every other area. His catch rate plummeted to an abysmal 52 percent highlighted by a 13 target, one reception game in Week 12 versus the Patriots on national television. Remember, with a “healthy Manning” he was catching 66 percent of his targets. His yards per target dropped almost a yard and a half. From Weeks 10-17, Thomas had two less receptions and 23 yards per game less than what he was doing with Manning; that’s a four fantasy point per game decrease right there.
We already know that touchdowns are fluky from year to year, now add in to that that Thomas was in an inefficient offense, receiving targets from a quickly declining 39 year old in the final games of his career, followed by an inaccurate young quarterback. I understand the disappointment based on the capital spent to draft him, but with what he was working with, it’s actually amazing that he was able to have the seventh most receptions and yards. A WR9 season under those circumstances is a borderline miracle. And before you say “But he drops the ball!” did you know that he was also one of the league leaders in drops during 2012-2014 seasons? Did you care then? Did you also know that 2015’s 5.10 percent drop rate was actually his lowest out of all of those years? I’m not worried, Charles Kleinheksel doesn’t care about drops, and neither should you.
Justin Winn outlined his Broncos projections and labeled Thomas a steal at his price. It is still unclear whether Paxton Lynch will start like Winn suggests, or if it will be Mark Sanchez. To me, it seems like Sanchez will at least start the year, but if he doesn’t keep the starting job for the remainder of the season I’m not worried. I don’t how the quarterback situation could be worse than last year. Say what you will about Sanchez but after his rookie year, he never had a TD rate as low, or an interception rate as high, as what Manning did in 2015. Albeit in a unique offense, the last time Sanchez received a starting quarterback workload in the final eight games in 2014, he was much better than what the Broncos quarterback duo produced last year.
Our main concern though is whether or not he will be able to support Thomas for sustained fantasy production. Using the RotoViz AYA App we can see that Sanchez had success with his two primary receivers. Any improved efficiency will be a welcomed sign for Thomas and his fantasy owners.
Despite having one of the most unfavorable quarterback situations in the league, Demaryius Thomas was still able to put up WR1 numbers last year. In a down season for Thomas, only eight WRs scored more fantasy points than he did. There are many reasons to be encouraged going forward, yet there is almost no upside being priced into his ADP as the WR 16. The RotoViz staff also sees Thomas as a bargain as we’ve projected him as the 12th best WR. Whether you’re building a Zero-RB team with Thomas as your potential WR3, or drafting him as your WR1, there are plenty of reasons to be buying Demaryius Thomas at this price. I’ll be bullish on him this draft season, and you should be too.