The Denver Broncos are in the enviable position of having not one, but two elite wide receivers. In Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos have two of the best wideouts in the league. For both players, however, the past two seasons has seen their productivity take a hit. Still, they both earned Pro Bowl nods in 2016. With a new offensive scheme better-suited to highlight their skills, both Thomas and Sanders should be poised to put up big numbers.
With old offensive coordinator Mike McCoy back in the fold after a head-coaching stint with the Chargers, Denver is set to move forward after two seasons that saw an offense struggle moving the ball and putting up points. Widely praised as a play-caller who will get the most out of his charges, McCoy has a pair of valuable assets at his disposal. But which receiver will have the better year this upcoming season?
Taking a look at each player and where McCoy will be an improvement from last year, will give us a better idea of who will have the greater improvement.
The case for DT
For some reason, Thomas seems to be a magnet for criticism, whether it’s his perceived troubles holding on to the ball or for the dominance he doesn’t always show despite the unique physical abilities he has at his disposal. Just as his temperament is quiet, so too is productivity. Since 2012, Thomas has had at least 1,000 yards receiving and has caught at least 90 passes every year. When everything is all said and done, Thomas should go down as one of the best wideouts to put on the orange and blue.
As much as the since-departed, Gary Kubiak offense should have been a fit for Thomas, it never seemed to click for him or make use of his abilities, like running with the ball after the catch, nor did it make use of using him in the red zone with only 11 combined touchdown receptions that past two seasons. In much the same way the offense seemed like it was stuck in second gear, Thomas never looked truly comfortable nor did the Broncos offensive staff make the best use of the big wideout. McCoy will greatly help Thomas and get him back to his 2014 level by taking advantage of the tremendous route-runner he can be and by finding creative ways to get him involved in the game.
Not to the fault of Thomas, but last year the inexperienced Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch throwing the ball greatly simplified the type of route-tree that Thomas was able run for most of the season. Now, with both quarterbacks in year two and a more aggressive and creative attack with McCoy at the helm, we should see number 88 looking more like the dominant player we have witnessed in the past and not the decoy pass-catcher we have seen recently.
Guys like Sanders seem to be able to connect with the fans because of the fearless nature of their play. Not the biggest or strongest wide receiver on the team, Sanders makes up for that with speed, quickness and agility, along with his penchant for making the big play in crunch time. Now entering his fourth season with the Broncos, Sanders has gone from a ‘show me’ free-agent acquisition to one of the more beloved Broncos on the team.
You can lump Sanders in with Thomas when it comes to inconsistences seeing the football last season, with the speedster vocalizing his displeasure on multiple occasions. If it was frustrating for fans to see Sanders streaking down the field, wide-open and frantically calling for the football, we can only imagine how the rest of the team, from the coaching staff to players, felt when they would see the football thrown to the check-down route. Too often Siemian and Lynch, whether by design or other mitigating factors, were too fast to hit Sanders on the quick route without seeing him on longer pass plays that needed more time to develop.
McCoy is adept at utilizing the offensive pieces he has at this disposal, and Sanders is the type of receiver who has the ability to stretch an opposing defense. Whichever quarterback ends up being the starter this season is going to be asked to be more comfortable hitting Sanders downfield. While he may not have the 114-catch season he had in his first year with Denver, he can definitely improve on his 79 catches from last year while also improving on his 13.1 yards per catch average as well, thanks in large part to an offense that won’t be content to dink and dunk.
It’s hard to pick against either player, but Thomas gets the slight nod in my book. In no way is this a knock on Sanders, but Thomas is the better physical talent and when all things were equal with a more prolific offense and an offensive cohesion at the top like in 2014, Thomas had the better numbers. The addition of McCoy could be the acquisition of the offseason as he will be a big reason both players, and the Broncos as a whole, put up much bigger numbers on the offensive side of the ball.