All the news recently in reference to the Denver Broncos is who is going to lead the running back corps. Montee Ball appears on track to lead the way, but debate that Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman are in the mix has been all over lately. Lost in all of this tight end Julius Thomas has quietly inked himself in as the week one starter. Does he have what it takes to break out and be a week one fantasy sleeper?
At 6-foot-5 250-pounds, Thomas is a big athletic red zone target, similar to a young Antonio Gates. Like Gates and Tony Gonzalez, Thomas is a converted college basketball player. Gates and Gonzalez both turned out to be in the top tier of tight ends for their generation, and Thomas could benefit from playing with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. Peyton Manning loves his tight ends, making household names out of Dallas Clark and Joel Dreessen. Thomas is arguably more physically talented than any of Manning’s former tight ends and has already developed a rapport with Manning during the preseason hauling in 12 receptions for 123 yards.
This Sunday the Broncos will host Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have revamped almost their entire defense this offseason leading some to question if this is the year that their defense starts to slow down. With Manning being the best in his generation (if not ever) at changing things up at the line of scrimmage, the Ravens might be in for trouble if there is any confusion with their defensive audible assignments. If that happens, odds are the Ravens will scramble to cover Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker, leaving Julius Thomas possibly open underneath Welker in the middle. Manning will find whoever is open, and it stands to reason it could be Julius Thomas.
The big problem with Thomas will be target distribution. Manning has a lot of mouths to feed in the Broncos offense with Demaryius Thomas, Decker and Welker all taking the field. It seems possible that the Ravens will likely give those three plenty of defensive attention, which could open up Julius Thomas to single coverage situations this Sunday. The Ravens’ linebackers have the size to match Thomas but not the speed, and the Ravens’ secondary has the speed but not the size. Should Thomas end up in a single coverage situation, he has the tools to make the Ravens pay.
Another problem that Thomas might face is much like Gates, Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham, converted basketball players have a tendency to struggle in pass protection and blocking. With Manning, trust is essential, and if Thomas blows a block or two, he might be riding pine in a hurry. Thomas has missed a blocking assignment during the preseason, so that is a situation to monitor going forward.
This game promises to be a close, competitive match with high scoring potential. With so many mouths for Manning to feed, it seems unlikely that Thomas will get you big yardage this week despite the shootout possibilities. I do find it more likely that he gets in the end zone than he breaks the 50 yard receiving mark. I think he gets closer to 35 yards than 50. Like I said about Alshon Jeffery earlier today, if you start Thomas in your tight end or flex spot, you are counting on the primary reads being covered, Thomas getting a solid matchup, and hitting the end zone as a check down option.
As always, I welcome your comments. If you think I’m wrong, I’m willing to listen. Just back it up with some facts and solid evidence. Thanks for reading and good luck this season.
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