On Demaryius, Ridley, and HankFriday, June 22, 2012
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My first re-watching column on Julio Jones, Cam Newton, and Jake Locker seemed to generate positive feedback, so I decided to do another. We'll skip the intro and get right into the game reviews.
Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas
Thomas saw double-digit targets in two 2011 games, so those are the ones I chose for re-watching purposes. They were Week 14 versus Chicago (13 targets) and Week 15 against New England (10).
We'll start with the negatives. I also purposely chose the Bears game because it was Thomas' worst of the season. He dropped three balls, including one early in the third quarter for a would-be over-the-shoulder scoring bomb and another midway through the fourth after Thomas ran a pretty comeback route and was wide open for what should have been an 18-yard gain. Tim Tebow's passes were a bit off both times, but they hit Thomas in the hands and he should have had them.
Thomas is an absolute bull to bring down with the football in his possession. On his first catch of the Chicago game, Thomas required literally seven defenders to be pushed out of bounds on a short grab down the left sideline. He added six or seven yards to the end of his reception.
There is a perception that Thomas is the deep threat to Eric Decker's possession receiver. I'll avoid opining why, but the opposite was the case in 2011. Decker ran more deep routes in the two games I viewed, while Thomas starred in the short to intermediate, particularly on comeback routes. Thomas played both outside receiver positions. If he took a single snap in the slot, I didn't see it.
Thomas did flash his vertical tools on a 39-yard strike in the fourth quarter of the Patriots game. He booked it down the right sideline and hauled in Tebow's pass with two defenders in the vicinity. The play happened on third-and-18 to keep a drive alive. Tebow powered in for a rushing touchdown a few snaps later.
I realize there's been criticism of Demaryius Thomas' route-running chops. I feel like it would be irresponsible of me to pretend to know route assignments. I can say whether a receiver moves cleanly in and out of breaks, and whether he accelerates from his stance into pass patterns.
In Thomas' two most heavily-targeted games -- both with Tebow at quarterback -- he was essentially out there playing streetball anyway. I'd posit that something like half of Thomas' receptions were made on broken plays. He did show good awareness working back to the quarterback when Tebow freelanced, although that needs to be instinct and not something for which Thomas should be praised. He also won't be doing that with Peyton Manning at the controls.
Thomas is really big and can really run. He has some special traits. He also hasn't played extensively in a pro-style offense as long as I've been paying attention (since Georgia Tech). I'm excited to watch Thomas this preseason in a system more typical of NFL clubs, because I could only come away from these two games saying he's a great athlete. I am smitten with his fantasy potential.
Other quick takeaways from Denver game reviews:
** We'll discuss Stevan Ridley at length in the next segment, but the Broncos-Patriots Week 15 game was his first big late-season exposure. And he looked awfully good. Great balance, quick feet, shows a solid stiff-arm and keeps his feet moving through traffic. More in a bit.
** On Bears-Broncos: I think it's fair to ask, that in league history, has there ever been a game played where the two teams have had as little confidence in their quarterbacks' passing ability as this one? Caleb Hanie versus Tebow was a sack- and punt-filled nightmare game with little ball movement and scoring. Before Marion Barber's late-game boneheaded miscues, he legitimately looked like one of the better skill-position players on the field. Matt Prater starred for the Broncos.
Patriots running back Stevan Ridley
Before we worry about 2012 projections, it's important to note that New England's backfield may not be a bankable fantasy asset so long as Bill Belichick is coach. Week-to-week usage is highly unpredictable, and workloads are highly inconsistent because of in-game rotations. In both of the games I viewed, the Patriots used three-headed timeshares involving Ridley, Danny Woodhead, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. And Aaron Hernandez got carries, too.
It's been eight years since any Patriots player hit 230 rushing attempts in a season. The high during that span (Green-Ellis, 229 carries in 2010) would have ranked 15th in the league last year. This might be the truest running back committee in football.
Green-Ellis has departed, though, leaving behind 24 rushing touchdowns over the past two years. There is production to be allocated, and we're not going to stop trying to guess who will get it.
On to Ridley ...