As you rigorously prepare and research leading up to each fantasy football season, sometimes it’s fun to take a step back and look towards the future of the NFL. This feature is going to do just that, and while its focus won’t be fantasy related, maybe it sparks some thoughts for those of you pondering a keeper league strategy or something of that nature. The idea is simple: rank the top trade assets in the NFL (only including players at the skill positions on offense: QB/WR/RB/TE). Again, this has nothing to do with fantasy trades, this is in terms of how valuable these players are to their actual teams in the longterm. Yes, this means names like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will be left off since it’s my list. I’m sure there will be plenty of debate, as everyone’s picks are likely different. So sit back, and enjoy the ride!

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No. 8: Demaryius Thomas — WR, Denver Broncos

Demaryius Thomas and Odell Beckham Jr. (No. 9 on the list) are really interchangeable in my mind, but I’ll give Thomas the edge for one simple reason — he’s still just 27-years old, yet produces year after year with no drop off. Pairing Demaryius with an elite QB has meant automatic success, not only every season, but practically every game of his young career.

Just take a look at Thomas’ numbers since Peyton Manning arrived in Denver in 2012:

2012 (16 games): 94 receptions, 1,434 yards, 10 touchdowns.

2013 (16 games): 92 receptions, 1,430 yards, 14 touchdowns.

2014 (16 games): 111 receptions, 1,619 yards, 11 touchdowns.

I’d say that qualifies as “consistently elite” — which is the most valuable thing any NFL team or fantasy team can ask for. As long as Thomas stays healthy (something he’s shown a remarkable ability to do throughout his career) he’s a lock to be among the top receivers in the game. That’s hard to place value on.

I’d also be willing to say that Thomas is capable of putting up numbers close to those with just an average QB throwing him the ball. Remember, Manning’s arm isn’t what it used to be. Much of Manning/Thomas’ success has come on quick screen plays or short routes that Demaryius breaks for a touchdown. At this stage of their careers, Thomas is far more valuable to an offense than Manning. I guess that may come off as a “hot take” to some people, but it’s also simply fact.

There’s a reason that as soon as Dez Bryant received a 5-year/$70 million offer this summer, the Broncos immediately turned around and gave Thomas the same deal. It’s because he’s worth every penny, and likely more. Any team in the NFL would take either of those contracts because a WR like Thomas has the potential to give you an elite offense all by himself.

Find me on Twitter @julianedlow

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Honorable mention: Jameis Winston/Amari Cooper

10. Cam Newton

9. Odell Beckham Jr.