ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – It was a debate that first started around Denver three years ago, when the Broncos were searching for a wide receiver to replace Brandon Marshall, and the Broncos had their pick of any receiver in the 2010 draft.
Dez or Demaryius?
With pick No. 22, the Broncos went chose Demaryius Thomas over of Dez Bryant, who had been widely rated as the best receiver in that class. The Dallas Cowboys snagged Bryant two picks later at No. 24.
"Everyone knew he was the better player in a different kind of offense, so I thought for sure he was going to be the first one to go. I was just hoping I'd be drafted in the first round," Thomas told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. "So to be able to be the first receiver, that was a big pride thing. I can always say now that I was the first receiver taken in my class."
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On Sunday, the Dez or Demaryius debate will play out for the first time on the same field, when Thomas and the Broncos face Bryant's Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.
"Oh man, I don't know," Thomas said, laughing. "I'm going with myself. I'd take myself."
By now, Peyton Manning and Broncos fans would probably agree, just like Tony Romo and the Cowboys are more than happy with how Bryant has developed into one of the NFL's marquee receivers.
There appears to be no wrong answer, which only makes the debate about which receiver is better, which is safer, which is faster, which is stronger, which is better one-on-one, which you would rather have as the centerpiece of an offense all the more fun.
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Statistically, Bryant has an edge in catches (223 to 177), yards (3,153 to 2,661) and touchdowns (31 to 20), through their first three-plus seasons. Thomas missed six games as a rookie in 2010 and five games in 2011 because of injuries, and spent part of 2011 playing in an offense that was hardly wide receiver friendly, and has flourished while playing with Manning.
Both enter Sunday's game with four touchdowns this season.
Dallas coach Jason Garrett was the Cowboys' offensive coordinator in 2010 when the Cowboys drafted Bryant, and said Wednesday that he recalled the Cowboys looking very closely at Thomas as well.
"We interviewed him a lot of different ways, and spent a lot of time on him," Garrett said. "He was a great football players, and I don't think anybody had any doubt about that."
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Dallas' concerns had to do with Thomas' broken foot, an injury Thomas suffered while training for the NFL combine, and kept him from being able to run a 40-yard dash for coaches and scouts.
Bryant's issues, meanwhile, were off the field, with an NCAA-imposed suspension from Oklahoma State and a troubled home life.
Perhaps that's why on the night both players were drafted, Thomas told reporters in Denver that he thought part of the reason he was the first receiver taken, and not Bryant, was because of his character.
"I know I'm a better person than Dez. That's how I feel," Thomas said on that April 2010 night.
Thomas was reminded of that quote Wednesday.
"I was just talking. I didn't know no better," Thomas said.
Thomas then rattled off all the reasons he admires Bryant's game – from the way Bryant makes difficult catches while in tight coverage, and how dangerous Bryant is after making catches. And Thomas said he's noticed a lack of off-field drama from Bryant in recent years as well.
"You don't hear anything about him anymore. I think he's changed a lot," Thomas said. "I can't really judge nobody. He's out there making plays, and he's not making news anymore."
Nope, he's only making sure the Dez or Demaryius debate will rage on for years to come.
Follow Lindsay H. Jones on Twitter @bylindsayhjones.
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