GLENDALE, AZ – OCTOBER 18: Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) during an NFL regular season football game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on October 18, 2018, in Glendale, AZ. (Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Bill Belichick has built a dynasty off of maximizing value and buying low on talented veterans. Demaryius Thomas has been one of the NFL’s better receivers since entering the league and is currently playing on a one-year deal to re-establish his market. Thomas is coming off of a serious injury but could be one of the best off-season steals if he can recapture his old form.

New England Patriots X-Factors: Isaiah Wynn

New England Patriots X-Factors – Demaryius Thomas

Demaryius Thomas isn’t the star he once was, but he was still a decent player when last on the field. Appearing in 15 games, the former first-round pick recorded 59 receptions for 677 yards and five touchdowns. He did all this despite spending the first half of the season with the Denver Broncos and the second half with the Houston Texans.

Thomas’ stats have been in decline since 2014, but the underlying numbers suggest that he can still play. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Thomas averaged three yards of separation per route run in 2018. This mark placed him in the middle of the league and ahead of notable receivers like Adam Thielen, Amari Cooper, and Michael Thomas.

Part of the reason for Thomas’ decline is that he’s dealt with subpar quarterbacking over the past few seasons. Since Peyton Manning retired in 2015, Thomas has caught passes from Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Case Keenum, and Deshaun Watson. Watson’s the only good quarterback of the bunch, but Thomas only had a half season in Houston. As a midseason acquisition, Thomas had to pick up the playbook on the fly and struggled to develop chemistry with Watson.

For the first time in a long time, Thomas has a full off-season to develop chemistry with an elite passer. A 42-year old Tom Brady is easily better than any recent Broncos quarterback, and Josh McDaniels is a better offensive mind than any of Denver’s recent offensive coordinators. With Josh Gordon’s status uncertain and N’Keal Harry being a rookie, somebody will need to step up on the outside. The only question is whether Demaryius Thomas can be that guy.

Can Thomas Return?

The Patriots bought low on Demaryius Thomas thanks to his current injury status. The longtime NFL veteran suffered a torn Achilles late in the 2018 season and might not be ready for the start of the regular season. Even if he physically capable of playing, Thomas is still on the wrong side of 30. Achilles injuries are notoriously difficult and there’s no guarantee that Thomas ever fully recovers.

For what it’s worth, Thomas has an encouraging history with these types of injuries. Thomas suffered a torn Achilles in 2011 and returned to the field just eight months later. Obviously, it’s easier to recover from this type of injury at age 24 than age 32, but Thomas was still able to beat his anticipated timeline by months.

On top of that, Thomas was charged with vehicular assault just a few months ago. According to reports, Thomas was involved in a crash which caused minor injuries for himself and “serious” life-threating injuries to one of his passengers. The NFL has not yet handed out a suspension, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. Between a potential looming suspension and the return from injury, there’s a very real chance Thomas won’t be around for a decent portion of the season.

Last Word on Demaryius Thomas

Demaryius Thomas has one of the widest range of outcomes of any player on the active roster. If everything breaks right, Thomas can be a key part of the offense as the teams’ top outside receiving threat. Thomas isn’t the player he once was, but he’s still capable of gaining separation and winning on the perimeter.

However, Thomas is anything but a safe bet to stick around on the field. Thomas ruptured his Achilles late in the 2018 season and might not be ready for the start of the season. Even if he is, it’s anyone’s guess if he can recapture his old form.

Demaryius Thomas could be a key piece of the passing attack or he could be the 2019 version of Eric Decker. New England loves to buy low on veteran receivers and try to find diamonds in the rough. This can lead to cost-controlled production but also has a naturally low hit rate. With the current state of New England’s pass catchers, the Patriots have to hope that Thomas is a hit.

New England Patriots X-Factors: Isaiah Wynn

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