Written By Brian Denning
I would like to preface this article by stating that I wrote it Tuesday night, long before the Denver Broncos hosted and defeated the reigning champion Baltimore Ravens. As you might already know, Julius Thomas broke out with 5 receptions for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns.
So far this offseason the fantasy focus in Denver has been on the acquisition of Wes Welker and the never ending running back battle between Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno. While that situation is still complicated despite Hillman being named the starter, one thing that is certain in Denver is that Julius Thomas is the starting tight end.
Who Is Julius Thomas?
Thomas is a 6’5” tight end, drafted by the Broncos out of Portland State, in 2011. Like many other NFL TEs before him, he played basketball before finding his calling in football. He is Portland State Basketball’s all-time leader in appearances, career wins and field goal percentage. He began his football career in 2010, earning a first team All-Big Sky Conference selection that season.
Since joining the team he has battled Injuries during his first two NFL seasons, culminating in an unappealing career line of 1 reception for 5 yards. He has received a great opportunity in the wake of injuries to Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme, so this is his time to shine.
Being a former division one basketball player, Thomas has great size and a sturdy frame. He possesses the excellent speed and athleticism desired in a play-making tight end. Because of this combination of speed and size, he creates a tough matchup for opposing line backers. So far in camp he has shown great ball catching skills and the ability to make the tough catches in traffic. His speed allows him to work his way up the seam and create big plays.
He is still considered a raw talent because of his lack of football experience. His development has been delayed by his injuries over the last two seasons. His biggest concern has been blocking, which is still a work in progress. Reports show his blocking has improved but Virgil Green still will steal downs as the better blocking tight end until Joel Dreessen returns.
Orange Julius, the nickname given to him by fans, led the team in receptions during the preseason. With a stat line of 12 receptions for 123 yards, he figures to gain a role on passing downs. During those appearances, he has shown a genuine connection with Peyton Manning and gave us glimpses of his athleticism. Besides a few missed blocks, his only negative this preseason was a week 2 fumble against Seattle. In camp he made the best of his opportunity and won the top TE spot on the depth chart.
Aside from Peyton Manning’s 7 touchdown performance, Julius Thomas had a great night in his own right. Physically, he looked like a man amongst boys when compared to the linebackers and defensive backs attempting to stop him. His great speed and size was on center stage during scores from 23 and 24 yards out. Peyton will not throw for 7 touchdowns every week, but the fact that he targeted Thomas early on when the game was close shows trust in his young play maker. Thomas is not going to replicate this performance every week, but should maintain about the same amount of targets week to week. Anyone who says that the offense is too crowded should watch last night’s game as a reminder of just how good it is and that there is plenty of targets to go around.
Current and Future Status of Julius Thomas
Thomas has the luxury of playing with one of the most dynamic passing offenses in the entire league. With Peyton Manning at the helm, he will get plenty of opportunities for passing targets. Peyton Manning has a history of successfully using tight ends, specifically Dallas Clark. Thomas is more athletic than Clark, and has greater big play potential. Last season, Tamme and Dreessen combined for 93 receptions, 911 yards and 7 touchdowns. If Thomas can gain a foothold on the starting job, and maintain that spot when Joel Dreessen regains full health, he could put up top 5 TE fantasy numbers.
Going against Thomas is the fact that he is in a dynamic offense crowded by play makers. Not only does he have serious competition for downs at his position, but also competition for targets from the team’s star trio of wide receivers. Last season Demaryious Thomas and Eric Decker both had breakout seasons following the addition of Peyton Manning. Together they created one of the most dynamic receiving duos in the league. This offseason, the team added former New England Patriots star Wes Welker making it arguably the best receiving force in the league. Fortunately, there are a lot of fantastic Peyton Manning targets to go around.
Despite the crowded offense, there is room for tight end production in Denver as displayed by the combined success of Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen last season. Even if Julius Thomas does not break out this season, his raw talent and athleticism should allow for him to gain a larger role in this offense as he continues to integrate into it. Looking at the history of other basketball players turned tight end such as Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates; one can deduce that Julius has the potential to be a game changer if given the opportunity. The only thing holding him back thus far is his body. It has yet to hold up for an entire season and is close to getting the injury prone label. Despite the risk, any starter involved in the Broncos air attack is rosterable in both regular and dynasty formats. Julius Thomas has a sky high fantasy ceiling in one of the most deadly offenses in the NFL with a QB that has produced many relevant fantasy TE seasons.
Note: After last night’s performance, look for Julius Thomas to be a hot waiver wire pick up in all fantasy formats.