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One foot injury is all it takes to keep a good man down -- at least that's true in the case of new Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who broke his left foot in mid-February while practicing a three-cone drill. Unable to go through all the pre-draft rigmarole, Thomas started his rehabilitation and waited for his phone to ring. When it did, Josh McDaniels was on the other end, offering him a shot to compete for catches in one of the AFC's most pass-friendly offenses. But recovery has taken him longer than anyone anticipated. Originally expected back for offseason workouts, Thomas' timetable will now take him up to the start of training camp. However, team officials claim there is nothing to be concerned with after examining his latest set of X-rays.
And as if the foot isn't bad enough, Thomas has been a pro for less than two months and already he's had to deal with respect issues. Despite being the first wideout selected (No. 22), everyone anointed Dez Bryant (No. 24) the best wide receiver in the 2010 draft class. And despite being the first Denver player selected, Thomas was a quiet pick as compared to the Broncos next choice, Tim Tebow, whose jersey immediately started flying off the shelves.
If he lacks respect, at least the 6-foot-3, 224-pound Georgia Tech standout will have opportunity. The Broncos are in the market for a new No. 1 wide receiver, and most believe the team will try to thrust that role on Thomas as soon as he appears ready to handle it.
Dissecting the depth chart: The Broncos are in the process of rebuilding the passing game after parting ways with superstar Brandon Marshall and tight end Tony Scheffler this offseason. Eddie Royal is the most established wide receiver remaining on the roster, while Brandon Stokley, Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney offer experience. For now, Gaffney is the odds-on-favorite to begin camp as the starter opposite from Royal, but it's a spot Thomas will be expected to win, probably sooner than later. Another receiver who could factor into the mix is fellow rookie Eric Decker, a catch machine from the University of Minnesota.
Just the stats: A look at Thomas' statistics at Georgia Tech exposes nothing exceptional in the standard receiving categories. He caught between 35-50 passes in each of the past three seasons, including his 1,000-yard campaign last fall. And in those three seasons Thomas caught a very average 14 touchdowns (eight in '09). The number that made scouts drool, however, was his 25.1 yards per reception last season. Thomas caught at least one pass of 50-plus yards in nine of Georgia Tech's 13 regular season contests, including a catch of 70-plus in the final three games. But as well as Thomas played as a junior, the longest catch of his career came against Duke the year before (88 yards) in what can be called the best overall performance of his collegiate career (nine catches for 230 yards).
Rookie comparison to 2009:Hakeem Nicks
Nicks was also part of a rebuilt receiving corps in New York last season and managed to come out of his rookie season with some positive selling points (two 100-yard games, six touchdowns). Thomas could match Nicks' success, and a catch total of between 40 to 50 is also a reasonable expectation for Denver's top choice.
Interesting fact that won't help you: Thomas was born on Christmas Day 1987 in Georgia.
What he's worth: No matter how long it takes Thomas to recover from his foot injury he'll eventually win that starting job, and he is certain to offer more value to fantasy owners than Gaffney. In standard leagues Thomas can be viewed as a fringe No. 3 receiver (solid No. 4) with the ability to move into the top 30 with a solid showing this summer in Broncos camp. In terms of how he'll stack up against his peers, Thomas will have more opportunity than Dallas' Bryant and he possesses more ability than Tampa Bay's Arrelious Benn, making him the likely top fantasy performer at his position this year.
Mike Beacom is a contributing writer for FootballDiehards.com.