"Sleeper" pick is an overused term during the NFL draft, and it seldom is applys to the 22nd player taken in the first round of the draft. But in relation to DeMaryius "Bay-Bay" Thomas, the first player the Denver Broncos chose on April 22, it seems a fitting label.
As a collegian, the 6-3, 230 pounder arrived at Georgia Tech just as local legend (and holder of most all time records at his position), Calvin Johnson, was leaving. While possessing many of the qualities which made Johnson an NCAA star, Bay-Bay was less physically imposing, not quite the athletic phenom, and certainly more low key. From a production standpoint, Thomas matched Johnson as a freshman, but then saw the team undergo a coaching change and adopt a completely new offensive set. The triple option introduced by former Navy coach Paul Johnson was almost entirely directed to the running game, and considered an anthema to pass receivers. DeMaryius took it in stride and salvaged solid sophomore and junior seasons at Tech, while seeing the change transform his team into a top level collegiate program.
Opting to turn pro early, based primarily on his exceptional "measurables", and on track to wow the scouts at the Combine as Calvin Johnson had 3 years previously, Bay-Bay broke a foot training just weeks prior to testing in Indianapolis. He ended up as a ghostly presence on the fringes of the Combine activities, limping around in a cast and walking boot. There was not enough time left to schedule a proper pro day between the Combine and the draft. Still he used his time there well, impressing interviewers with his intelligence and maturity, while knocking off a top ten Wonderlic score among all gathered prospects.
Based largely on those two elements, the good natured young man from a very tough background ended up as the top wideout selected in the draft at 22 overall. That was two spots ahead of the much more high profile and controversial Dez Bryant, the top rated receiver going in. As such, Bay-Bay's moment in the sun was relatively brief, and his soft spoken presence was quickly overwhelmed by the brash boastfullness of Bryant in the media eye. An even larger shadow loomed one pick later at #25, when the team that just drafted him went out on a limb for the highest profile college player in years, Miami quarterback Tim Tebow. DeMaryius was lucky to get out of the way of the stampede of reporters headed in the direction of Bryant and Tebow without being trampled.
Subsequent to the draft Tebow and Bryant have dominated the attention span of media and fans alike. The player the Denver Broncos considered a better receiver than Bryant, and a better overall prospect than Tebow, has slipped quickly back into relative obscurity. But the reasons that Josh McDaniel and Brian Xanders took Thomas ahead of the other two remain valid. It is a rare that a player comes out with his natural skill set at the position without an even larger ego and set of baggage to accompany. Dez Bryant emerged from a tough family background in a tough rural neighbourhood as loud, brash, immature and self centred, as so many young athletes do. DeMaryius Thomas emerged from a background that was at least as difficult, mature beyond his years, confident, soft spoken, and quick to deflect praise to others. Bay-Bay blames no one for his upbringing, and holds no one but himself responsible for who he is and what he does in life.