Well as it turns out, Demaryius Thomas actually did retire from the NFL before Tim Tebow.
One piece of NFL news this week is that Thomas retired after 10 seasons, but 11 years after the Broncos made him the 22nd overall pick in the 2010 draft. Tebow was the 25th pick. The pair helped Denver make the playoffs in 2011, but the only thing that was clear about the future was that Thomas would never reach potential if Tebow was his quarterback for much longer.
The Broncos traded Tebow to the Jets, which is where he spent his last season, appearing in 12 games.
Thomas spent seven and half more years in Denver, prior to being traded to the Texans in midseason 2018. Then Thomas went to the Jets, where he played his last season, appearing in 11 games.
Tebow is currently signed by the Jaguars, hoping to make the practice squad as a tight end. Thomas couldn’t get an offer after keeping his services open all of last year and this year.
But what I wanted to focus on today is how productive Thomas was during his prime years, almost all of which came during Peyton Manning’s tenure with the Broncos, and how that compares to the top receivers of today, including Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.
In 2011, Thomas appeared in 11 games and caught 32 of 70 targets for 551 yards and four touchdowns, with virtually all of those reps coming with Tebow as the quarterback.
In 2012, when Manning was signed as a free agent, Thomas averaged these numbers over the next four seasons:
162 targets, 100 catches, 1,447 yards, 10 touchdowns, 14.4 Y/C, 9.0 Y/Target, 62.2% catch rate
These numbers made Thomas one of the most productive offensive players in the NFL, though it was hard to not attach his accomplishments to the upgrade that Denver received at quarterback.
Thomas’s most productive season came in 2014, and his 184 targets would be more than any player received in 2020. Stefon Diggs led the NFL with 166 targets, 127 catches, and 1,535 yards. Thomas beats him in everything but catches, and including touchdowns.
What I think the NFL has managed to create over the last decade is a more efficient receiver, and a more focused attention on specialization. A slot receiver could be as different to an outside receiver as an outside receiver is to a tight end or a running back.
At 6’3, 235 lbs, Thomas is bigger than Kupp (6’2, 208 lbs) and especially Woods (6’, 195 lbs) so these comparisons are not meant to be Comparisons. It’s only a comparison.
During his three-year run for Sean McVay, Woods has averaged the following:
135 targets, 91 catches, 1,120 yards, 5 touchdowns, 12.4 Y/C, 66.8% catch rate, 8.3 Y/T
Keep in mind that a) Woods has the added element of a ground game (add 145 rushing yards per season and one touchdown to his total) and b) he didn’t have Peyton Manning as his quarterback.
It’s unfortunate for many reasons that Kupp was injured in his second season, especially because he was so productive during his eight games, but also because that cuts down on his overall numbers. But we know how good Kupp has been since his rookie season. Looking only at the last two, mostly-healthy seasons, and keeping in mind that LA’s offense struggled in a number of areas during these years that were out of his control:
133 targets, 93 catches, 1,067 yards, 7 touchdowns, 11.5 Y/C, 72.1% catch rate, 8.3 Y/T
During their prime healthy seasons together, Kupp and Woods have had similar numbers of targets, catches, yards, touchdowns, yards per catch, and the same yards per target. Really, Kupp has caught a higher percentage of passes, but Woods has gained more yards. It’s not just an underrated duo, it’s understated how fantastically they’ve complemented one another over the last four years.
We know that these stats will have an immediate chance to go up because of the 17th game, but the addition of Matthew Stafford could invite the opportunity for either Kupp or Woods — or both — to reach the same level of productivity as Demaryius Thomas enjoyed in the first half of the tens.
Those numbers again, side by side:
162 targets, 100 catches, 1,447 yards, 10 touchdowns, 14.4 Y/C, 9.0 Y/T, 62.2% catch rate
135 targets, 91 catches, 1,120 yards, 5 touchdowns, 12.4 Y/C, 8.3 Y/T, 66.8% catch rate
133 targets, 93 catches, 1,067 yards, 7 touchdowns, 11.5 Y/C, 8.3 Y/T, 72.1% catch rate