The Texans trading a fourth-round pick to the Broncos for a five-time pro-bowl receiver in Demaryius Thomas signified that they are playing to win now, rather than in the future. Pairing Thomas with DeAndre Hopkins and Keke Coutee instantly proves as an upgrade to the Texans offense that witnessed speedy receiver Will Fuller V tear his ACL against the Dolphins. While Thomas isn’t the speedster that Fuller is (and he certainly drops a good amount of passes), he offers a skillset that equates to big plays on contested catches in the red zone, middle of the field, and on deep shots. He should help Deshaun Watson as the second option in the Texans now stacked offense. In fantasy, his numbers should rise due to the Texans need for a big-bodied red zone receiver.
One of the most important things that Thomas offers the Texans is that he can stay healthy. Not once has he missed a game in the past six seasons. For a team that is dealing with as many injuries to its wide receiver core that Houston is, Thomas is a sigh of relief. Both DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas have made 99.43% of their last 176 combined games. What this means, is that the Texans should be able to count on their wide receivers to show up every Sunday.
Thomas should immediately be slated as the Z receiver alongside Hopkins (X), with Coutee in the slot (Y). As a physical wide receiver, standing at 6’3″ and 229 pounds, Thomas should immediately take pressure off Hopkins. Despite his stature, age (30), and physical play, Thomas has the speed to take the top off of a defense, he doesn’t have quite his 4.38 combine speed at his age, but his smart style of play and length make him a better option than Sammie Coates, Vincent Smyth, or KeKe Coutee as a field-stretching complementary receiver.
Notice his speed to get past the cornerback. His 4.38 combine showing is still prevalent, just not as noticeable while playing with less sufficient quarterbacks. Thomas has to contest the catch above because Keenum can’t deliver the ball where it needs to be. Despite this, Thomas clearly is able to blow past his defender and makes a great catch while keeping his balance for a 42-yard touchdown.
The big play is where Thomas shines. This makes him an obvious replacement to Will Fuller V. Though Thomas doesn’t have the speed that Fuller has, he makes up for it with excellent body control while simultaneously tracking the ball in the air. He has had to make those catches against the number one cornerback on opposing teams, now, he has the chance to do so as against secondary cornerbacks. Hopkins should and will take attention off of Thomas, enabling him to make big plays against less sufficient defenders.
The Texans will not completely change up their playbook after Will Fuller’s injury, it’s too late in the season to do so. Big-play touchdowns were the staple to Fuller’s game, but he also was able to stretch defenses out on shorter passes. Luckily Thomas presents a skill set that enables him to work the ball in the same area.
While Fuller is skilled in beating press cornerbacks with his quick release, Thomas does the opposite. His size, strength, and speed make him a problem for less athletic cornerbacks, as he can easily beat his man by extending his arms and outmuscling them. Thomas will not bring the same speed to the Texans that Fuller had, but he brings a much more physical presence to go alongside arguably the most physical wide receiver in the NFL in DeAndre Hopkins.
This quick dig perfectly exemplifies Thomas’ physicality off of the release, and his ability to create after the catch. Thomas immediately beats the press coverage using his length to gain leverage and then uses his brute strength to throw off the defender. Note that this was when Thomas was the primary receiver, facing the best cornerbacks while commanding attention from the defense.
While Thomas can’t completely mimic the beautiful post routes that Will Fuller V ran. He can continue the brand of the Texans vertical passing attack with his length, deceptive speed, and body positioning. His pure deep ball talent hasn’t been showcased as it should be, as he has played with weak arm quarterbacks in Trevor Siemien and Case Keenum recently. Most forget that he was one of the best deep ball receivers when he had a quarterback with the arm talent to get the ball where he needs. Luckily, Deshaun Watson has the arm to bring that back.
Thomas reels in a huge catch in the play above by dissecting an unconventional zone coverage. The defense is cover-two invert, which means the middle deep safety (Eric Weddle) comes underneath to guard the tight-ends, while the cornerbacks back-peddle to play deep coverage. Thomas to exploit Weddles underneath coverage with a well-timed inside cut that leaves him wide open. This was a well-timed play that resulted in a big play because of Thomas’ awareness to attack at the time he did. The Texans run very similar routes with Fuller (deep post), while Thomas has shown that he should immediately do the same.
If Thomas is set to run a simple nine route, he can win with his body rather than his speed. Notice the play above where he is able to get the catch by creating outside leverage. By positioning his body to twist on his jump to pin the cornerback behind him, Thomas is ready to jump for the ball where only he could catch it.
Once Thomas creates that leverage he is nearly unguardable due to his size and leaping ability. Catches like this might be hard for most players, but not for Thomas. He does such a great job of positioning his frame to where these catches are relatively straightforward.
Let’s just look at that body positioning and ball tracking one more time. Thomas beats his man by merely outrunning him here. He launches himself past the surprised cornerback as the corner backed off, this allows for Thomas to create separation. Then he chooses to go outside the cornerback to force the outside leverage. That positioning enables Thomas to get behind the cornerback to make a clean catch. Once the leverage is created, Thomas tracks the ball until it reaches his hands. This was a great catch by Thomas that not only showed off his catching ability but his speed and ability to expose cornerbacks with his frame.
Despite Thomas’ route running being somewhat clunky he is a smart route runner that can win based off of positioning rather than pure speed or quickness. He has seen it all and has played with one of the best quarterbacks ever in Peyton Manning. This is what a veteran receiver brings to a young team like the Texans. Thomas doesn’t need to be the best route-runner on the Texans, as KeKe Coutee and DeAndre Hopkins should command the middle of the field for the Texans for the foreseeable future. Instead, Thomas can use his wits to get himself open, in-turn creating plays for the other receivers.
Another aspect that Thomas could help with is the Texans red zone woe. As a big, physical receiver, Thomas finds a lot of success on end zone jump balls.
Notice this next play, a one-yard touchdown to Thomas. He doesn’t run a pristine route as he just runs a simple fade to the middle to make a jump-ball catch. These plays are easy for Thomas and should be exploited when in Houston. He is just too big and too athletic for most defensive backs to guard him in the end zone.
Before trading for Thomas, the Texans didn’t have a receiver other than Hopkins that could make plays in the red zone. Sure, Fuller and Coutee are great at creating separation, but in the end zone, teams need players like Thomas to make contested fades or leaping high-point catches. That’s what I like most about Thomas as a Texan, and that’s where I believe he will carve a role in. Thomas should immediately take away attention from Hopkins because he’s too much of a threat to make a play in the red zone. Hitting Thomas against a seam, on a fade, or just on an out route should immediately lead to success for the Texans, as Watson does favor to throw the ball higher rather than lower. A 6’3″ receiver with the leap that Thomas has should immediately lead to success with Watson in the red zone.
I really love this trade from both the Broncos and Texans perspectives. Trading Thomas was an obvious choice for the Broncos, not because of his play, but because of his age and Courtland Sutton’s somewhat similar style of play. For the Texans, trading a 4th round pick for an established receiver is an excellent pickup as they are trying to win now, and need a player to generate the big plays that Fuller did.
On the field, Thomas makes a lot of sense for the Texans. He doesn’t quite bring the speed that Fuller offers, but that doesn’t matter. Thomas has shown during his nine-season career that he is a big-time playmaker. For Thomas to be successful, he needs is a quarterback with a strong arm to get him the ball. Watson presents just that.
While Thomas is not somebody that will produce as much as Fuller on screens, quick drags, and create curl routes, his physicality, and large frame makes him a candidate to replace him on deep out routes, intermediate middle throws, and in the red zone. Despite Thomas’ drop problems, he projects as an excellent option for the Texans that will provide consistency on big plays, and in the red zone. In short, the Texans now own a physically challenging duo in Hopkins and Thomas, while KeKe Coutee should provide Watson with options on shorter plays, such as screens, drags, and quick outs.