When Donovan McNabb tossed for 426 yards in the 30-27 loss to the Houston Texans, it represented the second most passing yards in a single game by the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
He misfired on just 10 of 38 passes, and spread the ball out to eight different receivers. One player noticeably missing from catching any balls was Devin Thomas. Instead, he returned three kickoffs for 66 yards.
When the Washington Redskins moved up in the 2008 draft in the second round to make him the 34th overall selection, they saw a raw receiver with a big upside. He was the first of four consecutive draft picks on offensive players in the first three rounds. Of those four, only Thomas and tight end Fred Davis are playing with the Redskins this season.
The drafting of Thomas was seen by some as a gamble that early, though others thought he might slip into the first round. It is highly unlikely he would have fallen to the third round. He came from Michigan State University where he did little his first two years with the team before setting a school record of 79 receptions as a junior.
He then decided to turn pro because the 2008 NFL Draft was not considered strong at top end wide receivers. Donny Avery was the first receiver drafted, one pick ahead of Thomas, and has been mostly injured thus far. DeSean Jackson, of the Philadelphia Eagles, was taken 15 picks behind Thomas and one behind Davis and made the Pro Bowl once already.
Jackson has easily been the best receiver of the 2008 draft, though players like Jordy Nelson, Eddie Royal, Earl Bennett, Early Doucet, Harry Douglas, Mario Manningham, Andre Caldwell, Josh Morgan, Pierre Garcon, and Chaz Schilens have all equaled or surpassed Thomas in production despite being drafted behind him that year.
What Devin Thomas is becoming for the Redskins is an enigma. Though you never hear reports of him shirking or taking it easy in drills, there are no reports of him being a hard worker who takes extra reps to improve either. Some think he relies on his natural speed too much to stick on the roster.
One criticism of Thomas has been his running of a pass route. With savvy veterans like Joey Galloway, Santana Moss, and McNabb, he should be showing improvement. Wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell caught 883 balls in 16 seasons as a wide receiver in the NFL with five teams, two of which saw him go to the Pro Bowl. He was noted as an excellent route runner as a player, so it is hopeful Thomas is glued to McCardell’s hip picking his brain for as much information as possible.
After a poor rookie year that saw him average eight yards on 15 receptions, Thomas started in 10 of the 14 games he played last year. He showed steady improvement as he played, and had a career best seven catches for 100 yards and two scores in the 12th week of the season.
Instead of building on that, he has fallen deep on the depth chart at receiver. Moss and the soon-to-be 39 year old Galloway start, with Anthony Armstrong and Roydell Williams as their reserves. Williams is a fourth year journeyman, while Armstrong was the best story coming out of the Redskins camp by making the team at 27 years old after playing in the Intense Football League.
Though now the fifth receiver on the team, Thomas may be their fastest. Washington has him returning kickoffs right now, and he has averaged a very good 28.4 yards on five returns. Still, he faces competition there with the recent signing of experienced returner Chad Simpson. Simpson has 53 career returns at a 23.4 yards per return average, along with a 93-yard return for a touchdown.
If Simpson takes the return duties from Thomas, it may put Washington in a tough position on why they should keep him on the roster. He is in the third year of a four-year contract that pays 4.8 million. The team could use help on both sides in the trenches, so it is possible he in on the verge of being dismissed by the team.
Being the fifth receiver doesn’t give one many chances to prove themselves in a game. The impressing comes from time on the practice field. If Thomas does not step up his game quickly, he may soon join the ultra-slow and injured Malcolm Kelly along with punter Durant Brooks as being viewed as wasted draft picks by the Redskins in 2008.