Demaryius Thomas had a tumultuous 2018 season. Starting it with the Denver Broncos — the team that drafted him in the first round back in 2010 — he saw considerable action as a hybrid X/Z-receiver early on during the season but failed to make a significant impact on a struggling passing attack. This as well as the emergence of younger options like Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, led the Broncos to pull the plug at the trade deadline.
On October 30, the veteran was moved to the Houston Texans. Thomas acclimated quickly to his new environment and served as the team’s number two wide receiver alongside first-team All-Pro selection DeAndre Hopkins. However, his first year in Houston came to an abrupt end in December: he tore Achilles tendon in the fourth quarter of his team’s week sixteen game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
At that point, Thomas had 23 receptions for 275 yards and 2 touchdowns on his Texans résumé. Solid numbers, but not enough to keep the team from holding onto the five-time Pro Bowler beyond the 2018 season. The Texans opted to part ways with Thomas and his $14 million salary cap hit in February. Still rehabbing from his season-ending injury, it took him until mid-April to finally find a new team.
But find one he did, and last Thursday he saw his first in-season action for the New England Patriots: Thomas was on the field for 24 offensive snaps in his new team’s preseason finale against the New York Giants, and he immediately showed that he can still be a valuable contributor. All in all, Thomas was targeted eight times on the day by third-string quarterback Jarrett Stidham. He came away with seven catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the end zone, and to have on a Patriots jersey to score... it was big for me,” said Thomas after the game when talking about his two scores. His pair touchdowns was just one of the many stories his debut in New England — he had started training camp and the preseason on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) — wrote. The biggest one was certainly simply the one of his return.
“I was excited, especially because it was the first game coming back from tearing my Achilles. Getting out to make a couple of plays. I was excited about it and I’m looking forward to building on it and to keep getting better,” the 31-year-old added. Thomas, of course, had not stepped onto a football field in a competitive environment in eight months and just recently returned to practice for the Patriots.
“We’re going on limited information,” said New England head coach Bill Belichick when speaking about Thomas during a radio appearance on WEEI earlier this week. “We only activated him for practice right at the end of training camp. Of course, he played in the Giants game. We have to go on what we can go on: I’d say the improvement that he’s shown, and the work ethic, and what he’s been able to do has been good.”
Thomas himself sounds like he has firmly put his season-ending injury behind him: “I just go out and play. If I’m going to get hurt, I’m going to get hurt — but I want to be full speed getting hurt. My Achilles is great, I do whatever I can to play my best ball. I’m not going to thing about anything, I’m not going to have it in the back of my head because usually when I have it in the back of my head I don’t play my best.”
Against the Giants, he may not yet have been at his best. Going up versus second and third string defenders who predominately fell victim to roster cutdowns this weekend — just like Thomas himself before getting re-signed, but more for practical purposes than any performance-related issues — his output cannot be properly evaluated. That being said, he showed plenty of the upside that made him an intriguing free agency acquisition for the Patriots: Thomas’ size and physicality stood out, and his route running looked good as well.
“I actually feel a lot better now than before the injury,” he said when talking about his physical state — one that was reportedly also impacted by his time spent at quarterback Tom Brady’s TB12 Performance Center close to New England’s Gillette Stadium. “I was a little smaller, but [now] I’m a littler heavier, a little stronger. The program that we’ve been doing helped out a lot. I feel great.”
Thomas certainly looked that way last week as well, which could be good news for the Patriots’ passing offense moving forward — and more importantly another big step forward for a veteran player fighting his way back from a major injury. Belichick seems to agree: “It’s been to the point where we feel like he’ll be able to make a solid contribution for us this year,” the future Hall of Famer said about the veteran wideout.
“The question is ‘where will it go?’” continued Belichick. “I don’t know if any of us have the answer to that, but at least I know that he’ll work hard, he’s tough, and he’s a dependable player who will put everything he has into it.”