DENVER -- If J.D. Salinger were still alive, he’d have to write and wonder about Demaryius Thomas, the problem inside the puzzle inside the paradox.
Thomas may have become the worst best wide receiver in the National Football League.
The Broncos’ $15-plus million, three-time Pro Bowler is on pace for his least productive season since his quarterback was a guy now trying to play minor-league baseball.
Sure, D.T. has 31 catches for 416 yards and certainly will surpass 1,000 yards for the fifth consecutive year, but during a three-year stretch from 2012-2014, Thomas was averaging more than 1,500 yards a year.
Then, he got the big contract.
In the past 20 regular-season games, he’s dropped 13 passes and fumbled four times.
And Thomas was H.G. Wells’ ”The Invisible Man’’ during the Broncos’ postseason run to the Super Bowl championship last season. In three games he caught just seven passes for 60 yards (including a long for 15) and no touchdowns, and was out of sight – not outasight! – in the title game against Carolina.
Thomas can’t complain that the trouble is Tim Tebow, long gone, or Peyton Manning ignoring him or Brock Osweiler not looking at him. Earlier this year the wide receiver ragged on Trevor Siemian for not throwing toward Thomas enough. In the San Diego game (a defeat), D.T. was targeted 10 times.
He caught only five.
He fumbled with under five minutes to play, and that was really the end of the Broncos.
For the second year since becoming one of the four richest wide receivers in the game, Thomas is among the leaders in drops and fumbles.
Think about it. He’s had two great catches in six games. Otherwise, Thomas has been as common as a firefly on a summer’s eve.
Truth is, Emmanuel Sanders is the No. 1 man at wide receiver for the Broncos now.
But this is more telling: His teammates voted Demaryius Thomas as offensive captain. He’s about as much a team leader on and off the field as that shag-rug mascot Miles. Have you ever seen Demaryius encourage his teammates or get in somebody’s face or even show some fire in his belly?
Doesn’t anybody here know how to captain an offensive team? Siemian admits he’s too young and inexperienced to take over the leadership of the offense. Offensive linemen? Except for Matt Paradis and Russell Okung, the others are more worried about keeping a job or throwing a block. The tight ends must be in the witness protection program. And C.J. Anderson is rather busy trying to get back to where he was as a runner.
Demaryius and Emmanuel are veterans – hell, D.T. is the last of his draft to still be on the Broncos – who should be calling out the other guys to get it going. But the only time they’ve spoken up and out this year was when they wanted to be on the ESPN highlights.
The Broncos can’t depend on Cody Latimer, who has three measly receptions this year and can’t stay healthy; Bennie Fowler, who has been hurt much of the season and doesn’t make the big catch as he did last year; “Sunshine’’ Taylor, who seems in shade, and Jordan Norwood, he who is averaging two receptions a game.
Siemian could use some help, but when Demaryius is catching 31 of 44 targets, five of 10 against the Chargers, and playing more like a $15 burger than a $15 million man, the redshirt freshman doesn’t have the “main target’’ to rely on, and Thomas will deny he is the issue. But he is one of the three or four biggest mysteries, and he is the highest paid of all the offensive players. Play for pay, D.T.
At this rate, the Broncos should consider dumping him after the season.
Since he signed the big deal, Thomas hasn’t been such a big deal. That 226-yard day is way back in the rear-view mirror, and the games of 180 yards, 168, 150 have disappeared along with The Invisible Man.
On Monday night, against his old quarterback, Thomas has to play like the wide receiver of old.