Demaryius Thomas to the Texans feels like an important trade because we remember Thomas’s name from the Peyton Manning years in Denver, when the receiver had over 1,300 yards receiving in four straight seasons. That seems like great value for a mid-round pick, which the Texans are reportedly giving up. But realize that Thomas is a downgrade from Will Fuller, whose injury (torn ACL) last Thursday prompted this deal.
Yes, Thomas, who turns 31 on Christmas Day, might—MIGHT—still be a better all-around receiver than a healthy Fuller, but not within the context of Houston’s offense. Fuller provided the vertical speed that’s critical for playing with Deshaun Watson, one of the game’s most aggressive downfield throwers. That speed also lifted safeties, making for softer coverages, which aided in the Texans’ deep-intermediate route designs. Thomas can still run and get downfield, but not like Fuller.
This isn’t to say Houston has made a bad move. They’re the best team in the AFC South, which means they’ll need depth to go deep into January. Thomas isn’t Will Fuller, but with fourth-round draft pick Keke Coutee being more of a gadget receiver, the Next Man Up would have been Vyncint Smith or Sammie Coates—two men who are definitely not Will Fuller. Having a quality No. 2 receiver discourages defenses from suffocating No. 1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins with extra double, and maybe even triple, coverage.
The question is: How quickly can Thomas acclimate to Houston’s scheme? And how, exactly, will that scheme look moving forward? Some of the college-style misdirection concepts that Bill O’Brien masterfully installed for Watson last year have been pushed towards the back-burner. Adding a conventional receiver like Thomas is likely to keep the offense going down its more traditional schematic path. We could debate for hours whether that’s a good or bad thing.