While the Denver Broncos have two perennial pro bowl wide receivers in Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas, the player to watch this weekend against a hostile Kansas City Chiefs’ defense is third year tight end Julius Thomas.
Thomas is a prototypical tight end for the new passing era of the NFL. He is big at 6-foot-5, 246 pounds, and is incredibly athletic for his size, running a 4.6 40 yard dash and a 4.32 20 yard shuttle. As a former collegiate basketball player, has picked up the nuances of the NFL passing game very quickly, running quality routes, catching the ball with his hands, and using his big body to block out defenders.
He is currently tied for the team lead in touchdowns with nine, and after a 74 yard touchdown off of a screen pass, was named the AFC offensive player of the week. With the aggressive Chiefs defense focusing so much energy on containing the Broncos’ elite receivers on the outside and pressuring Peyton Manning, Thomas will have big play opportunities up the middle and in the red zone. The question is, will he be able to make the most of them being matched up against perhaps the best safety in the league in Eric Berry?
Berry is the perfect NFL safety; smart, physical, and crazy athletic, he is truly the leader of this dominate Chiefs defense. Even in one-on-one coverage against a much bigger Thomas, his play recognition skills and tackling ability will make it very difficult for Thomas to create yards after the catch, let alone make the reception at all.
While Thomas has shown tremendous progression this year, he was injured most of his first two seasons and only played one year of collegiate football at the University of Portland. Berry, on the other hand, is a thoroughbred football player. He was unanimously elected to two all-American teams as well as two all-SEC teams while playing for the University of Tennessee, drafted as the fifth overall pick, and has been selected to two pro bowls in both of his NFL seasons.
That being said, Thomas has the ability to be a truly dominant player in the NFL, especially while he has Manning throwing him the ball and mentoring him during practices. If he is able to create the big plays he is capable of against this Chiefs defense, he could not only be the key to the Broncos winning the game, but he could make a statement around the league and possibly to be selected to first pro bowl of his career.
Written by John Spina. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @jsspina24.