Nov 10, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas (80) runs after a reception during the first half against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Julius Thomas Has Emerged as a Legit Top Flight NFL Tight End

Some guys like Rob Gronkowski just get it right away. Others take some time.

For Julius Thomas, it was a grueling two seasons before he made any kind of impact as a member of the Denver Broncos, after John Elway showed enough confidence in him with his first draft class to trade picks and move up to get him.

Thomas was selected by the Broncos in the fourth round out of Portland State as a former basketball player who showed considerable upside in his last couple of years at college. At 6’5″ 250 pounds, he’s kind of hard to miss on the field, especially with his top level athletic ability and basketball coordination skills.

The problem with Thomas was, going into his rookie season he was hindered by ankle injuries, and he only saw seven targets all year. In 2012, he didn’t see a single pass come his way offensively. It was looking more and more like the Broncos had tried and failed on another project at the tight end position, and Thomas was buried on the depth chart behind veterans Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme, both of whom had pretty solid chemistry with Peyton Manning, even in their first years as Broncos.

But then, in 2013, something clicked. Thomas was fully healthy for the first time as an NFL player, and despite having received hype in the pre-season and training camp before, something was different this time. The Broncos were making it a point to get him involved in the offensive game plan, and he has completely turned his career around.

Thomas is one of four Broncos players this season who have nine total touchdowns, and that’s not including Peyton Manning who has 34. He’s averaging 13 yards per catch and despite suffering an ankle injury against the Washington Redskins, Julius showed me something that I have not seen from a tight end on the Broncos since, well, maybe Shannon Sharpe?

Thomas’ speed on that 74 yard catch-and-run was unbelievable, and showed to me that he can be even more of a weapon than the Broncos are leading on. Thomas’ nine touchdowns are second in the NFL and among all receivers, only to Jimmy Graham’s 10 down in New Orleans.

The Broncos have clearly got a budding superstar in Julius Thomas, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.

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