The Denver Broncos are poised to have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL in 2013 with players like Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball. But could there be another player opposing teams would have to account for?
If tight end Julius Thomas is going to step up and be the player the Broncos hoped they drafted in 2011, the time is now.
In his first two years in the league, Thomas caught just one meaningless pass. He should be one of the most interesting players to watch in training camp, and his development should be one of the most intriguing storylines of the summer.
Denver got solid production out of the position last season between Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen, but Thomas has the athleticism that they don't. He has the potential to be a matchup nightmare for defenses.
With a background in basketball, Thomas has a skill set that equates perfectly to today's tight end position. He is quick for his size and is able to use his big frame to shield off defenders for the ball. He exhibits good hands and pass-catching ability.
Thomas would also give Manning a big target at 6'5" and 250 pounds. He is very good with the ball in his hands and can be tough to bring down.
For a tight end, he can turn a routine crossing route into a big gain.
Demaryius Thomas, on Julius Thomas: "I knew he was going to be good."— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) June 3, 2013
Manning loves to spread the ball around and is a master at finding the mismatch on defense.
Thomas is much too quick for a linebacker to cover one-on-one, but when matched up against a defensive back, Thomas will be able to use his size to win almost all of those battles. This could make him very similar to what the Broncos used to have in Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe.
So where does Thomas fit with the team currently?
He would be no higher than third on the depth chart behind Tamme and Dreessen. He would then have to fend off Virgil Green and undrafted rookie Lucas Reed. Despite being suspended for four games last season due to a violation of the league's substance abuse policy, Green has actually been more productive through his career than Thomas.
Dreessen and Tamme combined for 93 receptions, 911 yards and seven touchdowns. The Broncos would be happy to get that production again, but Thomas offers a combination of skills that could make the offense even more potent.
Denver had high hopes for Thomas when it used a fourth-round draft choice on him two years ago. Now, the Broncos hope to see the return they expected out of that investment. If it works out, it could pay big dividends.
Thomas has a long way to go to prove himself, and staying healthy will be at the top of that list. The team knows what it has in Tamme and Dreessen, but if Thomas can prove he has what it takes to be the starting tight end this season, he could be the final piece necessary for a run to the Super Bowl.