How Demaryius Thomas Has Been Impacted By Denver's Quarterback Situation

Demaryius Thomas has played with two underperforming quarterbacks this year. How bad -- or good -- has he actually been?

The 2015 NFL season has been a strange one -- for a lot of reasons.

I mean, if the playoffs started after Sunday of Week 16, the starting quarterbacks in the AFC would be Tom Brady, A.J. McCarron, Brock Osweiler, Brandon Weeden, Alex Smith, and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

What are we to make of that?

Well, for one team in the playoff mix (a team that can actually finish with the top seed in the AFC or miss the postseason entirely), it means a lot. The Denver Broncos, led by Osweiler, enter a Monday Night Football tilt against the McCarron-led Cincinnati Bengals.

That's not nearly as intriguing as a Peyton Manning-Andy Dalton showdown to determine the fate of these two franchises, but we have to take what the NFL gives us.

And for superstar wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, that's not a good thing this year.

Thomas' Downward Trend

Entering 2015, much was made about Thomas' contract, though he wasn't the only star receiver whose new deal was a big talking point. Thomas, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, and A.J. Green were all in the mix for new, monstrous deals, and Thomas wound up with a 5-year, $70 million deal.

Despite the immediate and (somewhat) unbelievable struggles of Peyton Manning, Thomas got off to a solid start in the box scores.

He saw double-digit targets in six of his first seven games, and he recorded at least 92 receiving yards in five of those seven games. Yes, he reached the end zone just once, but the volume and yardage were there.

His per-game averages of 12.29 targets, 99.29 yards, and 8 catches, though, fell off pretty quickly.

From Week 9 through Week 15 (another seven-game sample), Thomas' averages fell to 10 targets, 5.29 catches, and 61.86 yards.

Thomas did score four times since Week 9 and just once through Week 8, but what are we to make of his season?

Thomas' Metrics

Even with other receivers' Week 16 numbers (and before Thomas plays on Monday night) baked in, his 156 targets rank fifth among all players this year. His 93 catches are 7th, and his 1,128 yards are 10th.

It's hard to say he's having a bad year if you look at those season-long marks.

But if we look past those stats and into some advanced numbers, Thomas' season has clearly been affected by something -- likely his quarterbacks.

In terms of our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which compares a player's performance to historical expectation level, Thomas' cumulative marks hold up.

Among all receivers entering Week 16, his Reception NEP (the points above expectation he's added with his catches) of 94.83 ranked ninth. Controlling for volume, though, is a bad look for him.

Among the 38 receivers with at least 85 targets entering the week, Thomas' Reception NEP per target (0.61) ranked 32nd. His Catch Rate of 59.62 percent ranked 22nd, and his Reception Success Rate (the percentage of catches that actually resulted in NEP gains) of 81.72 percent ranked 28th.

The volume has helped mask otherwise glaring inefficiency issues.

To be fair, Thomas wasn't really an example of efficiency last year, when he ranked third in Reception NEP (140.59) among all receivers, but his Reception NEP per target (0.76) on a league-leading 184 targets was drastically better than it is this year. His Catch Rate (60.33 percent) is mostly unchanged from last year to this year, but his dip in Reception Success Rate (88.29 percent last year and 81.72 percent this year) can help explain his inefficiency further.

(Long-Term) Quarterback Issues

While it's easy to point to the struggling quarterback play as a reason for Thomas' inefficient year, it's just as easy to keep in mind that this is what he'll be dealing with until the franchise turns things over to a different passer, until Osweiler takes a step forward, or until Manning somehow comes back and plays much better than he did early in the year.

And for as much as Manning struggled, Thomas was better with Manning than with Osweiler, though the receiver's efficiency marks were still vastly underwhelming.

Thomas QB SplitsRecRec NEPTarRec NEP/TCatch RateSuccessRec SR%
Manning (Weeks 1-9)6156.49930.6165.59%4777.05%
Both (Week 10)79.44100.9470.00%7100.00%
Osweiler (Weeks 11-15)2528.90530.5547.17%2288.00%

For some context, among 77 receivers with at least 50 targets this year (Thomas has 53 in games started by Osweiler), his Reception NEP per target (0.55) would rank tied for 65th with Randall Cobb. His Catch Rate (47.17 percent) would be 73rd. His Success Rate (88.00 percent) would be a less-bad 33rd, but without the upside, those catches are limited in use even if they are more consistently contributing to NEP than they were with Manning.

Thomas' future with Denver is assured, as he has four years left on his deal, but how he performs with Osweiler, Manning or any other quarterback while with the team might end up being the biggest piece of the Super Bowl puzzle for the Broncos for years to come.