One of the most intriguing players in the draft is a receiver from Georgia Tech named Demaryius Thomas. In 2009, Thomas averaged 25.1 yards per catch (for his career, it was 19.5, on 120 catches), and at 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds, Thomas has the size and route-running ability to be a solid starting NFL receiver -- if not a star.
What makes Thomas more interesting:
1. His grandmother trafficked cocaine when he grew up in Georgia, and his mother was a sort of bag lady with the proceeds. When they were caught, the mom wouldn't rat on the grandmother, and Thomas's grandmother got 40 years in prison and his mother 20. He was 12 when it happened, and he was shuttled from family member to family member before finally landing three years later with an uncle who was a preacher. That set him on the right track.
2. While working out just before the NFL Scouting Combine on Feb. 16 in Arizona, Thomas cracked a bone in his right foot doing what they call the three-cone drill. He had surgery Feb. 21, and in the 23 days since, he's been going through a gauntlet of medical treatments designed to get him ready to run for NFL scouts before April 15, the date teams have to stop working out players before the draft.
The normal time for a fifth metatarsal bone to heal and for an average person to be back running and jumping on it is at least 12 weeks. The medics at Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona overseeing Thomas' rehab are trying to patch him up and have him ready to sprint in seven.
"Some of the stuff they're having me do is pretty weird,'' Thomas said from Arizona over the weekend. "But I think it's helping me. I know it's helping me."
The stuff goes back to the surgery itself, when bone marrow was removed from his hip and transfused into the area of the break, where a pin was used to set the bone. "It helps almost like a cement foundation,'' said Anna Hartman, the manager of the Performance Physical Therapy Department at API, who is with Thomas every day. That day is eight and a half hours long.
Thomas uses a bone stimulator, to speed bone-remodeling. The foot is hit with a cold laser, which stimulates bone-cell growth. He gets massage therapy on the foot. He takes fish oil supplements, a natural anti-inflammatory. He just started last week to be put in a pool in a contraption that allows him to progressively put more and more body weight on his foot while running. At night, he sleeps with electrodes stimulating bone growth through the night. "Our goal is to have him run 100 percent before the draft, so he can show his ability to the NFL teams,'' Hartman said. "But we won't sacrifice his health. I'm positive his foot is not going to be a chronic thing.''
His mom is in jail 'til 2017, Thomas said, which means he'd be an eight-year vet if he makes the NFL and survives long enough for her to see him play. She went to jail between his fifth- and sixth-grade years, and Thomas credits the discipline and schedule instilled by his uncle with helping him get through high school.
"My mom told me she wishes she wasn't where she was right now,'' Thomas said. "I miss her. It's been a challenge for me to stay focused without her over the years. But I always focused on staying away from drugs and trying to become a professional athlete. That's why the broken foot was so bad. I couldn't believe it -- just days away from showing people what I could do at the combine, and this happens. But I'm determined to not let it affect where I'm drafted.''
Thomas still hopes to be a first-round pick, but he'll need rock-solid medical reviews to be able to stay in the first round. Teams already are skeptical of his 40 time (in the 4.55-second range), and if they think the foot might be susceptible to further injury, his stock would plummet. That's one of the reasons he wants to run before the draft. He wants teams to see the injury wasn't calamitous, and he wants teams to know he has the kind of work ethic to put in the long days at API.
Canvassing four teams last week and over the weekend, I came away thinking Thomas, if he passes medical muster, will go somewhere in the lower quarter of the first round -- 25 through 32. If he does, he'll owe Anna Hartman and her troops in Arizona more than just a hearty thanks.
One point about Monday's column: I got a lot of Tweets and a couple of e-mails outraged that I would lump the late Sean Taylor in with some of the lesser lights from the top of the 2004 draft, and I apologize for not being more specific about the point. What I was saying, in pointing out that even in what was thought to be a very strong draft at the time, is I'd still rather have a top-12 quarterback for four years than a risky rookie. Six of the top 10 picks in that draft are not with the teams that drafted them, and a seventh, Robert Gallery of the Raiders, was moved to guard because he couldn't handle the speed rushers at tackle. I didn't call Taylor a failure, but I can see how the implication was that he was one.
Now onto your other e-mail:
• THOMAS JONES VS. LT. From Jordan Wall of Clearwater, Fla.: "Peter, help me out with the logic of NFL free agency. The Jets just released Thomas Jones, a back who ran for 4.2 yards per carry last year, and immediately signed LaDainian Tomlinson, who ran for a meager 3.3 yards per carry that same season. Is it just me or do these general managers/head coaches get too caught up in "name" players who occasionally make a highlight, and completely overlook the consistent producers they already have on their teams?''
This was a pretty simple case of economics. Thomas Jones was due $5.8 million in 2010, and he was going to back up Shonn Greene. Though the Jets probably would have rather had Jones than Tomlinson, Tomlinson will make $3.1 million this year and $5.2 million over the two years of the deal. So Jones for one year would have made more than Tomlinson will over two -- assuming Tomlinson hangs around for two years.
• DON'T GO TO 18, COMMISH. From Robert Jensen of Boston: "I think you should ask Roger Goodell if he thinks the NCAA should increase the tournament from 65 to 96 teams -- the 47 percent increase in teams (and games) with a 0 percent meaningfulness increase is only slightly greedier than increasing the NFL season to 18 games (with a plan, I'm sure, to not pay anything more to the players for this honor). Although, if he studies the plan too much he might realize that he can just let in twice as many teams and extend the playoffs two more weeks and he'd get the same or higher TV ratings.''
As one GM told me last fall, "The 18-game schedule is a freight train rolling down the tracks.'' The owners want it.
• GOOD IDEA, BUT THE CHIEFS AREN'T DEALING ANY HIGH PICKS. From Sam Johnson of Kansas City: "Greg Olsen wants out of Chicago. How 'bout the Chiefs? Since losing Tony Gonzalez, the Chiefs were awful at TE. Olsen would be a great fit while they're hunting down quality wideouts to complement him.''
Knowing Scott Pioli, he's dying for a crack at building his roster his way, with young, inexpensive players through the draft and through secondary free agency. I doubt he'd deal his high second-round pick for Olsen -- if the Bears decided to put him on the market at all.
• HASSELBECK IS FINE. From Matt Burk of Pittsburgh. "Peter, what's wrong with Matt Hasselbeck all of a sudden in Seattle? All you heard about earlier was how happy the Seahawks are that he's their QB for the next several years, etc., and now you're trying to push Donovan McNabb on them. What, if anything, has changed there?''
Probably nothing. When I spoke with Pete Carroll in January, he talked about wanting to get at least two more years out of Hasselbeck. But he's missed 15 games due to injury in the past four years, he turns 35 in September, and you've got to wonder, in a relatively weak division, if putting all your eggs in his basket is a smart thing to do. I don't think Carroll will deal for McNabb; I just think he should.
• NOW THIS ISN'T A BAD IDEA. From Bernie Allen of Starlight, Pa.: "Regarding the Patriots TE predicament, I see that the Pats have three second-round picks in the upcoming draft. Any chance they send one to Dallas for Martellus Bennett? Bennett has the talent and I read that Dallas turned down a first-round pick trade offer for him last year pre-draft. I can't help but think that if that offer came this year, Jones and Co. would be all over it.''
Maybe. I know two things: Jerry Jones loves Martellus Bennett. And Bennett was a major disappointment last year. If Bill Belichick made an offer of a second-round pick for Bennett, the Cowboys would likely think hard about it -- and turn it down. That's my guess.
• AND HERE ARE YOUR ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME OMISSIONS:
1. Rush (Greg in Beavercreek, Ohio)
2. Moody Blues (Dennis in Denver)
3. Tom Petty (Tim in Medford, N.J.)
4. Hall & Oates (James in Kansas City)
5. Genesis (Jay in Southboro, Mass.)
I got Tweeted about 50 rock Tweets on Monday, most telling me I was nuts to say KISS belongs. Look, regardless of your feeling about the quality of their music (and I've never been a fan), any group that sells 100 million records deserves to be in the rock hall. Come on now.