When tight end Julius Thomas packed up his bags and hit the road to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars roughly a month ago, he subsequently left a gaping hole in the Denver Broncos’ offense.
During his last two meaningful seasons in Denver, “Orange” Julius was the definition of a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Whether it be a safety, cornerback, or linebacker, it was nearly impossible for defenses to adequately guard him.
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In the red zone, he was money.
Thomas caught 24 touchdowns in the last two seasons combined, the most by a tight end in NFL history. Before injuring his ankle in Week 11, Thomas had already reached pay-dirt 12 times and was well on his way to shattering Rob Gronkowski’s mark for touchdowns in a single season by a tight end.
Although his blocking was less than desirable, Thomas’ absence from the Broncos’ offense this upcoming season could sting quite a bit.
Insert veteran Owen Daniels, who’s entering his tenth season in the NFL. It’s well-documented that Owens has basically never had to play a single down without Gary Kubiak’s guidance. Now that they’re reunited in Denver once again, that unique bond continues on.
Under “Kubes”, Daniels has been one of the most consistent tight ends in the game. He’s not the most athletic in the world, but more than makes up for it with sound route running and soft hands.
He’s no stranger to Kubiak’s blocking schemes, either, and he should be able to excel in said facet of the offense, something Thomas could never do in Denver.Oct 19, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) high fives tight end Owen Daniels (81) after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Daniels has the chance to prove that he’s truly an upgrade over his predecessor, and having Peyton Manning as his quarterback can’t hurt.
Over the course of his illustrious 17 year career, Manning has molded many average players into stars. Tight ends are his specialty, as guys like Dallas Clark and Joel Dreessen have shown to be nothing more than run-of-the-mill players without “The Sheriff”. One could make the argument that Jacob Tamme, maybe even Thomas, are headed in that same direction.
The tight end is an all too valuable position in Kubiak’s system and to Manning alike, and with no Thomas in the mix, the pressure on Daniels to perform is considerable.
Backing him up though will be fan favorite and blocking extraordinaire Virgil Green. Some foresee a breakout season on the horizon for Green and even more believe that he’ll push Daniels for serious playing time.
Green will take at least some of the pressure off of Daniels’ shoulders. Nonetheless, with Daniels’ knowledge of the new offense and his more refined skillset as a pass catcher, he obviously has a distinct edge as the Broncos’ starting tight end.
Julius Thomas was a heavily utilized tight end when Peyton Manning came to town and quickly became an integral part to the Broncos’ historic success on offense.
A replacement has been found in Owen Daniels and if the Lombardi Trophy is to find its way back to Denver, the Broncos will need the veteran to be at the top of his game come next season.