Why did the supposedly ‘elite’ Demaryius Thomas disappeared in Super Bowl 50?
Where was Demaryius Thomas in the Super Bowl?
First, congratulations to the Denver Broncos for winning Super Bowl 50 (not L). It was a fantastic performance from an extremely talented squad. The story of this Super Bowl was all about the dominance of Denver’s defense, led by Super Bowl MVP Von Miller; completely stifling and putting seven sacks on the best offense is no easy feat. This narrative has largely overshadowed the talented Denver offense that sputtered in the most important game of the season. The fact that an offense with Emmanuel Sanders, C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman, and Demaryius Thomas could not gain 200 yards is, frankly, sad. Many Denver fans hoped that elite wide receiver, Demaryius Thomas (DT), might provide Peyton Manning with a consistent outlet to move the chains. This was not the case, so I want to ask: where was DT?
The Regular Season
Demaryius Thomas has been called a “tier one wide receiver in the NFL” for three to four years by football fans and media outlets. His regular season statistics certainly confirm this notion, with four consecutive seasons of at least 1,300 yards receiving and 90 receptions.
These are the numbers people are used to and expect to see from Demaryius Thomas because he has performed so effectively and produced so consistently for four years. Perhaps also contributing to the high expectations people have for Thomas are his physical attributes.
At 6 foot 3 inches and 230 pounds, DT is an excellent size for the wide receiver position and physically matches up well with defensive backs. Moreover, his 4.4 40-yard time gives us a great indication for his elite straight-line speed.
DT’s combination of size and speed in addition to the smarts of Peyton Manning gave fans and experts good reason to expect great things from Thomas on a weekly basis. And his regular season performances, for the most part, cemented these expectations for the Broncos’ number one receiver.
Unfortunately, Thomas’ postseason play has been rather inconsistent, and on more than one occasion, including Super Bowl 50, he has had no impact on the game. Why?
The Postseason Stats
Despite averaging 14.5 yards per reception in the regular season since 2012, Thomas’ yards per reception falls to 10.9 in postseason play during the same period. His yards per game plummets from a regular season 94.5 YPG to a measly 54.5 YPG. And DT’s receptions per game dips to 4.5 in the postseason from 6.3 in the regular season.
The raw stats by themselves already suggest an inconsistent Demaryius Thomas in the postseason, especially when considering the aforementioned stats include single game stat lines like: seven receptions for 134 yards, and 13 receptions for 118 yards. Again, why? What is the deal with Demaryius Thomas in the postseason?
One possible explanation for some of DT’s inconsistency can be found in the talent he was facing in the postseason, both his own and his opponents’.
Take the New England Patriots for example. During the AFC Championship, Thomas recorded just two receptions for 12 yards on seven targets. The Patriots played a great amount of man coverage that game, and Demaryius struggled mightily against young corner Logan Ryan. DT could not get free and failed to rack up yards after the catch.
Against talented defensive backs like Ryan, the explanation for Thomas’ woes is not difficult to come up with. Since college, Thomas has not been a great route runner. Without much experience running advanced routes in college, Thomas relied too much on his elite physical attributes to lose the defender and get open.
Unfortunately, this does not work against high-caliber defensive backs in the NFL and it shows. This video shows some highlights from Thomas’ career-best season.
You can see that most of his big plays come from wide open receptions in-between coverage, yards after the catch, or streaks and fades down the field. On the rare occasion he makes a big play on a more advanced route (in this case a shallow shake), you can see that his route is not crisp.
Watch carefully from 1:20 - 1:29. Though he gets the touchdown, his shake is weak and if there was man coverage, he likely would not have sold the post corner. Good route running comes from practice and concentration; unfortunately for Thomas, a reliance on his physical attributes is not enough in the playoffs.
This postseason, Thomas actually dropped balls at a higher rate than ever before. In fact, since the 2013 postseason, DT’s catch rate has dropped with every postseason game played, starting at 80% and making its way down to 16.7%.
While some targets are simply too difficult for any receiver to catch, there were a number of balls this postseason that should have been catchable for a receiver of Thomas’ caliber. Watch this play from the Super Bowl. Even though Demaryius has three inches and 40 pounds on Norman, he fails to make the grab.
Drops mainly come from a lack of concentration. Though I’m sure DT was not a million miles away when trying to make that catch, this lack of focus can become a force of habit, and it’s something Thomas will have to learn to overcome if he wants to become the best receiver in the league.
Super Bowl 50
Frankly, Thomas was disappointing for the entirety of this postseason, but it all culminated in the Super Bowl in which he matched up with his strongest foe: Josh Norman. With just one reception on six targets for eight yards, DT was a non-factor in Sunday night’s game. Unable to create space between himself and Norman, Thomas disappeared from the Broncos’ offense.
A lack of concentration and route running prowess resulted in one of Thomas’ worst performances in the last four years. It’s clear that a dependence on elite physical attributes is not going to get Thomas past the athleticism and solid technique of defensive backs like Norman.
Though Thomas has been quite excellent in the regular season, consistently producing at top levels, there is still room to grow for the 28-year-old. Luckily, he has all the physical qualities to be elite; now he just needs to take the right route to utilizing his gifts.
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