The New England Patriots, who are currently in their middle of their 2019 preseason, have 90 players on their active roster at the moment. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with a member of New England’s wide receiver group.
Name: Demaryius Thomas
Position: Wide receiver
Jersey number: 88
Opening day age: 31
Size: 6’3, 225 lbs.
2018 review: Despite coming off his worst statistical year since 2011, Demaryius Thomas entered 2018 as a starter in the Denver Broncos’ offense — and for the first eight weeks of the season he looked the part. However, Thomas’ usage was different from years past: while he still moved between the X-receiver and the Z-receiver roles on a regular basis, he was no longer the every-situation player he had been earlier in his career.
As a result, Thomas played ‘only’ 74.6% of Denver’s offensive snaps (405 of 543) between weeks one and eight — a significant number, sure, but another decline in playing time when looking at his previous seasons. Nevertheless, the veteran wide receiver was still productive for the Broncos as he caught 36 passes on 56 targets for 402 yards and 3 touchdowns. By all accounts, he was a solid contributor on an otherwise inconsistent offense.
Despite this and his status as one of the team’s most experienced players, however, the Broncos opted to move on from Thomas midway through the year: on October 30, the day before the trade deadline, the club sent the wide receiver and a seventh-round draft pick to the Houston Texans in return for two selections (a fourth-rounder and a seventh-rounder). Houston added Thomas to help fill the role of the Z-receiver after Will Fuller suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Thomas acclimated quickly and immediately played a considerable role for Bill O’Brien’s team. In his first game with Houston — coincidentally against the Broncos — Thomas played 79.0% of offensive snaps (49 of 62) and caught 3 passes for 61 yards. The numbers were not spectacular, but they reflected the wideout’s status as the number two at the position alongside eventual Pro Bowl selection DeAndre Hopkins.
In this role, Thomas would ultimately play 359 of a possible 456 snaps (78.7%) for Houston’s offense before tearing his Achilles tendon in the fourth quarter of his team’s week sixteen game against the Philadelphia Eagles. At this point, he had 23 receptions for 275 yards and 2 touchdowns on his Texans résumé and appeared to be on his way to his first playoff appearance since Super Bowl 50 which capped the 2015 season.
2019 preview: Entering 2019 with a salary cap hit of $14.0 million — none of which guaranteed — the Texans opted to part ways with Thomas in February. It took the five-time Pro Bowler more than two months to find a new home: in April, however, the Patriots signed him to a one-year deal worth $2.9 million. The contract made Thomas the second-highest paid wide receiver on the team’s roster behind only Julian Edelman.
As opposed to Edelman, however, Thomas is no lock to make the team. This rings especially true considering that he spent the entire spring and the first three weeks of training camp (including two preseason games) rehabbing from his Achilles injury. While the 31-year-old was reactivated from the physically unable to perform list (PUP) earlier this week, he still needs to get up to speed — both literally and figuratively — quickly to have a shot at making the team.
What should help Thomas is his experience not just in the NFL per se but when it comes to playing under Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels: he was drafted by the Broncos in the first round in 2010, after all, when McDaniels was still their head coach. Now, he needs to take advantage of his knowledge of the system in order to build chemistry with Tom Brady and carve out a role as an X/Z hybrid on a deep receiver corps.
With four spots presumably already taken — Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Josh Gordon, Jakobi Meyers — there seem to be only two open ones left. Thomas will get every chance to show that he can earn one of them against main competition Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris, but if he fails to return to the player he was before his injury it would not be a surprise to see the team move on from him come roster cutdown day.