A few short months ago, Devin Thomas came out of a short-lived retirement, returning to his home state and playing for his childhood team. It happened in January, with the season in the rear view mirror and focus shifting towards the NFL Playoffs. But things have quickly sputtered. He’s started training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list, and much like this past season, Thomas has been pushed to the side by local media.
Heading into the offseason, the Lions front office made a conceded effort to improve their depth and talent level at wide receiver, following the injuries to Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles. They drafted Corey Fuller — a raw receiver with elite athleticism — and RB/WR Theo Riddick, while signing free agents Devin Thomas, Michael Spurlock, Matt Willis, and Chaz Schilens to add competition.
Schilens has made the greatest impact, sporting his size and strength through the first week of training camp.
“He came in right away and he caught the ball very well,” Burleson told Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press. “And he’s almost adjusted flawlessly. He’s not making a ton of mistakes. And with a guy like that, you can’t help but to notice. When you’re tall, fast and you’re catching the ball well, in this offense, you’re going to get kept around.”
Thomas, however, continues to fly under-the-radar through the first week of training camp. But this isn’t a new concept for the four year vet. He’s had to fight and claw to the top, which started at a young age.
Growing up in Ann Arbor, Thomas found himself struggling in school and in the community at Ann Arbor Huron High School. He chose to move with his father, playing his final two years of high school football just outside of Washtenaw County at Canton High School.
Due to academic reasons, he chose Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College for his freshman season. Thomas led the Red Ravens passing attack with 33 receptions for 674 yards (20.4 avg.) and five touchdowns as a redshirt freshman, before transferring to Michigan State where he would set multiple individual records.
However, his first year on campus was not a bed of roses. Following the 2006 season, Thomas recorded only six receptions for 90 yards and one score after being entirely left off the seasons inaugural depth chart, according to Scout.com.
Heading into the 2007 season — in-which he would shatter three school records — Thomas, again, was left off the first unit in the preseason depth chart. But his play on the field would tell a different story. He set the Spartans all-time single season receptions record (79), single season all-purpose yards( 2,598), and most 100-yard receiving games (seven), before declaring for the NFL Draft.
He was the second wide receiver taken in the 2008 NFL draft (34th overall), but just four games into his third season, the Redskins choose to cut ties.
Two seasons, two teams and a short stint as a retiree, Thomas finds himself on a pass happy Detroit Lions team with immense veteran and young depth at wide receiver. Although Thomas’ injury is unknown, the setback could be fatal to his NFL career. With Fuller — the Lions sixth round pick — likely earning a roster spot, Schilens impressing, and Spurlock, Riddick or Patrick Edwards likely taking over return duties, Thomas has a rough, uphill battle to make the roster out of training camp.
But it’s been this way throughout his career, year after year, he finds a way to impact his team. From jaw dropping explosion at Michigan State, to impacting the outcome of an NFC Championship game. Thomas made two key fumble recoveries, the second of which led to a Lawrence Tynes game winning field goal in overtime, which sent the New York Giants to the Super Bowl — they would go on to win.
But times have changed in Detroit. The Lions have the top receiver in the game, and two exceptional counterparts. They got better through the draft at receiver, and added veterans who have impressed. Thomas, on the otherhand, has only three receptions his past two seasons, but he showed off his kick return skills as a Giant in 2011 — averaging 24.3 yards per return, which ranked 13th in the league (minimum 20 returns). The Lions roster as a whole has improved from a year ago, and Thomas’ time has come down to this: It’s now or never, but this isn’t a first for the self proclaimed “Rastaman.”
Note: All stats and individual records found through Profootballfocus.com and MSUSpartans.com