Oct 12, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas (80) makes a touchdown in front of New York Jets free safety Calvin Pryor (25) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
It’s hard to believe Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas is only really in his second full season of NFL action, because he’s making scoring touchdowns look easy.
While Thomas appeared in five games in his rookie season (2011) he caught only one pass and didn’t play a single down in Peyton Manning’s first year in Denver (2012). It seems now like that could have been a lost year, but health-wise, Thomas wasn’t ready. He battled injuries from the moment he stepped onto an NFL field, but was finally fully healthy through the 2013 offseason and able to work with the team’s number one offense in camp.
When he was a rookie, Thomas showed flashes of the dominance we are seeing today, but not even the most optimistic of homers could have predicted the kind of football we’d see out of this former basketball player even in his third and fourth years in the NFL.
What the Broncos saw in Thomas was a big, athletic mismatch who could provide another weapon in the offense. What they have right now is the NFL’s great touchdown machine, a guy who finds ways to get open and make plays, learning from the best how to be the best.
“I wasn’t going to rest on what I did last year,” Thomas said. “I was really determined to come in and keep working and try to find every way I could to get better. Fortunately for me, it’s been able to show in production. I’m still going to continue to keep working. Everything I’ve done now inspires me to work harder, so I’ll stay after it.”
Thomas also says he is watching other players around the league, always looking for ways to get better.
“Every week I get a cutup of a lot of the big plays that tight ends across the league have made,” Thomas said. “It doesn’t matter if they were a Pro Bowler before. I get a whole clip, and I watch it every week. That’s one of the first things I do with my week — just see what other guys are doing, how they did it — and I think it really helps me a lot. It’s kind of a competitive thing. I turn on the tape and I see some good things that guys across the league have done and I want to be able to do those things for my team.”
The Broncos are finding ways to get Thomas the football. He has played 19 games the last two seasons (14 in 2013) and has scored 21 touchdowns. That is a remarkable statistic to me. You don’t think a guy can average a touchdown per game, but Julius Thomas has been an absolute model of consistency in getting open and making plays in the red zone. It’s one of the biggest reasons why the Broncos are among the league’s most efficient teams with red zone trips.
Thomas is a hard worker. He knows there’s always room to grow, and the work ethic of guys around him has proven to be invaluable. He spent time this offseason working with and learning from Tony Gonzalez, the best basketball player turned tight end ever and perhaps the best tight end this league has ever seen. He revolutionized the position, and now Thomas is carrying on that tradition.
Excluding games where he was injured, there have only been four games over the last two seasons where Julius Thomas did not score a touchdown. He’s only gotten better, and he continues to improve on a weekly basis. With nine touchdowns already in 2014, Thomas is on pace for nearly 30. He might not be able to keep that up all year, or maybe he will, but one thing is certain — when he scores, good things happen for the Broncos.
In his career, they’ve only lost two games when he scores a touchdown.
Peyton Manning said that he noticed Thomas’ speed has improved this year, and with the Broncos having only 24 receptions through five games, his workload could significantly increase. He’s playing well in all formations, but the Broncos might have him blocking a bit too much. If they can find ways to get this guy the football more, I don’t think we’ll hear any complaining.
Quotes obtained from Jeff Legwold’s blog at ESPN.com