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Published on 02/14/2012 at Tue Feb 14 12:00.
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A Tale of Two Seasons: Decker and Demaryius

Eric Decker congratulates Demaryius Thomas after catching a touchdown pass December 4, 2011. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Demaryius Thomas was the Denver Broncos‘ first pick in what would turn out be one of their more controversial drafts since 1983. Thomas was viewed by some as the number one wide receiver in the draft; some viewed Dez Bryant as superior. Former Broncos’ head coach Josh McDaniels went with Thomas over Bryant, and some viewed it as the second time in as many drafts that the team passed up a sure thing for someone who was more a gamble (referring to 2008’s draft when the team passed up DeSean Jackson to take Eddie Royal in the second round).

Every Denver fan new and old knows that McDaniels quickly jumped back into the first round in 2010 to draft Tim Tebow three picks after they had drafted Thomas. After 2011’s AFC Wildcard game the duo made McDaniels look like the genius that Denver had handed over the keys to in 2009. Later in the 2010 draft McDaniels and the Broncos again went back to the wide receiver who may be a gamble list and drafted Eric Decker in the third round.

Neither Decker nor Thomas started in Week one of 2010’s season, both fought injuries since being drafted Thomas finished the season with 22 receptions for 283 yards and two touchdowns in nine games. While Decker had six receptions for 106 yards and one touchdown in seven games.

The 2011 offseason was especially tumultuous for Thomas who began with a torn Achilles tendon in February and broke a finger just after training camp in September. Thomas did not participate in a game until Tebow got his first start as quarterback in the Week seven against the Miami Dolphins.

Decker began 2011 working out with former Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton and fellow Minnesotan Larry Fitzgerald, he was a Week two starter for Denver. His statistics were very impressive, but slumped immediately when Tebow took over at quarterback. Prior to Week five Decker averaged five catches per game and 67.5 yards, he also had four touchdowns. In Week six’s Tebow take over Decker had two catches for negative two yards.

After the Week six bye Decker had one game with six catches and a ‘should have been touchdown’ against the Detroit Lions, but never managed more than three catches in any game following that. Though Thomas’ returned in Week seven he did not suit for two games following that and that fact did help continue Decker’s touchdown total as he had four over the next five weeks.

Much was made about Tebow’s ability to complete passes in 2011, not much was made about the Broncos receivers’ ability to catch them.

Overheard once in a Denver press box in regards to Tebow’s unique throwing style and the ability to hang on to said ball, “Have you ever caught a knuckleball?” Touché anonymous man, touché.

Given that Thomas and Decker have both spent two seasons more or less catching Tebow’s passes–unique or not– they should have the apparent uncanny ability to do so. It did look as though Brandon Marshall had returned to the lineup at several points in the season during last minute Tebow drives however.

Though drops aren’t an official NFL statistic, as drops are subjective; they are a statistic that is worth exploring and as Thomas got healthy he experienced an increase in targets and drops. He finished the season in a nine way tie for eleventh in the AFC for drops totaling six dropped passes (in nine games). Decker did not clinch the top twenty for dropped passes in the AFC, but as I mentioned drops are subjective and fans will remember that he had what appeared to be many.

One thing that can be said for Thomas is that as Tebow got more prolific so did Thomas. In the nine games Thomas played in 2011 he had thirty two catches for 551 yards, averaging 17.2 yards per catch and notching four touchdowns. That doesn’t include his ten catches for 297 yards and 29.7 yard average he had in the playoffs. Tebow’s magic had just as much to do with Thomas as it had to do with luck.

Decker never recovered from what would have been a two touchdown game in Week eight, I say would have been two touchdown game, because he had what looked to be a touchdown on the opening drive in the game against the Lions called back. Though it cannot be overlooked that Decker’s single catch and subsequent 56-yard reception against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week ten sealed the game for Denver. Tebow went two of six in that game and the Broncos won despite losing Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee to injury, mostly due to Decker’s fourth quarter touchdown and 244 yards on the ground.

As the season wound down it seemed that the more often there was some type of public display of affection on behalf of Decker and/or his girlfriend Jessica James  on Twitter the less effective he became. The obvious thing to point out in Decker’s slumping numbers would be Tebow’s limited passing plays, but despite that Thomas had stellar numbers during the same time period; in the one game Jessica James sang at halftime at Sports Authority Field Decker did not notch a single offensive statistic (Week 11 vs. New York Jets). Not that James is Yoko Ono, but hopefully Tebow too can visit with Decker and Fitzgerald this offseason in Minnesota. With or without her.

  • Ranger Turtle

    B.Lloyd was traded away when Tebow was a starter, hence Decker (was #2 receiver) became #1 receiver, and hence would get better defensive coverage.  Next year, I believe opponents will believe that Thomas is #1, and Decker will once again be #2; maybe that will improve his game once again.  Just MHO.

  • Anonymous

    Ian, great to see you back on BroncoTalk my man. There was a hole in my heard after you left that just couldn’t be filled haha!

  • Ian Henson

     Thank you very much my friend, glad to be back =)

  • Ian Henson

     Good point, at a certain point (possibly following the Minnesota break-out game) wouldn’t defenses had switched coverage to DT’s side though?

    I cannot imagine that the Broncos are done at receiver with just these two though. They have some very good reserves and the wide receiver free agency and draft market is stacked this offseason.

  • Monty

    Stoked to have Ian back at BT!!!

  • Anonymous

    Welcome back Ian.

    Decker and DT did drop quite a few catches between the two of them. Even if they would have made the catch, it wouldn’t have moved Tebow’s accuracy much north of 50% for the year. Still unacceptable for a QB, but Tebow only threw 6 INT’s for 14 games..3 in one game. If Tebow stays with those statistics, and even slightly improving the amount of drops, Tebow could be a 20 TD, 10 INT, 3000 yard QB by throwing 10 more passes a game. Not MVP numbers, but simply by giving the players an oppurtunity to make plays, and them making them, makes our passing game much better.

  • Ian Henson

    The numbers you mentioned plus 1,000+ yards rushing and another 15 TDs on the ground could be more along the MVP numbers though. He averaged about 55 yards on the ground per game this season, that’s 880 yards over a full season. He also averaged a rushing touchdown about every other game he played.

    You may be on to something very strong here.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, kind of. If you add attempted passes, you have to remove attempted rushes. Unless those attempts equal out to more yardage gain. More yardage would likely mean more plays.

    But everything really comes back to making the correct read, making those few extra throws and the WR’s etc actually catching them. The play calling was definitely lop-sided so I think we would be just fine with 40 rushes per game instead of 50.