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Demaryius Thomas will step up for Broncos -- or else

As we count down the days to training camp, Around the League will examine one player from every team set for a breakout campaign in 2012. Up next: the Denver Broncos.

Demaryius Thomas will step up -- or else

Making the Leap

Around the League will pick from each NFL team one player who's poised for a breakout season in 2012:

AFC East
Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots
AFC North
Bengals | Browns | Ravens | Steelers
AFC South
Colts | Jaguars | Texans | Titans
AFC West
Broncos | Chargers | Chiefs | Raiders
NFC East
Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Redskins
NFC North
Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
NFC South
Buccaneers | Falcons | Panthers | Saints
NFC West
49ers | Cardinals | Rams | Seahawks

Here's the mind-set Demaryius Thomas grapples with as September nears:

"Every time I make a mistake, I get mad at myself because I know Peyton (Manning) is counting on me," Thomas told ESPN.com last week. "I have to be good. Peyton picked the Broncos, and I have to make him know he made the right choice."

Thomas wasn't huddled in a darkened closet when he uttered these words, and he shouldn't be. The Denver Broncos third-year wideout has inspired praise from Manning himself.

"He's had a productive OTA session and minicamp," Manning said. "I think he's running his routes with a lot of confidence and making a lot of tough catches."

Thomas did what he could with his chances last season, but he was targeted about as frequently as Zane Beadles in the Tim Tebow-led read-option offense. It wasn't all bad. When we last checked in with Thomas, he was on the receiving end of Tebow's 80-yard scoring strike in overtime of Denver's wild-card victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. But that play, and his totals that day -- four catches for 204 yards and the TD -- weren't typical of his Sundays in 2011.

Thomas wasn't heartbroken to see Tebow shipped east in March, but the addition of Manning presents a new dilemma. Along with Eric Decker and Denver's less-than-stunning cast of wideouts, Thomas must live up to Manning's expectations.

We upset some of you by listing Denver among the teams destined to miss the playoffs next season. With Manning, many ask, how can they fail? Thomas better not be the answer to that question.

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