Why Julius Thomas Will Be Denver Broncos' Breakout Star in 2013

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Why Julius Thomas Will Be Denver Broncos' Breakout Star in 2013
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It was confirmed by Lindsay Jones of USA Today several days ago that tight end Joel Dreessen will miss the rest of training camp after suffering a setback in his recovery from a June arthroscopic knee surgery.

The Denver Broncos have had their share of serious injuries thus far during the offseason. Tight end Jacob Tamme has also missed the majority of training camp due to a quadriceps injury.

Both Tamme and Dreessen saw the majority of playing time at tight end for the Broncos in 2012. Although the Broncos kept four tight ends on their roster last year—including Julius Thomas and Virgil Green—Tamme started eight games, while Dreessen started 15.

The Broncos like Dreessen's ability to catch the ball and block. He played over 75 percent of the Broncos' offensive snaps last season.

However, as Lindsay Jones points out in her report of Dreessen's injury, this opens the door for tight end Julius Thomas, who has had an outstanding training camp:

With Dreessen and Tamme out for the time being, Julius Thomas has a chance to solidify not just his place on the roster, but also make a case for significant playing time come September. Thomas, a fourth-round pick in 2011, played sparingly his first two seasons after suffering a severe high ankle sprain early in his rookie year. He had surgery on the ankle in April 2012.

Of all of Denver's standouts through OTAs and training camp, Thomas has arguably been the most impressive.

From Arnie Stapleton of the Associated Press, via Fox News:

Julius Thomas is dropping jaws, eluding linebackers, overpowering safeties and even holding his own when blocking All-Pro linebacker Von Miller.

In one spectacular but increasingly typical half hour, he overpowered safety Rahim Moore for a touchdown that no DB in the league could have denied, somehow reached into the crowd and hauled in a pass on the sideline that safety David Bruton had batted away and then kept Miller from getting anywhere near Peyton Manning.

 

Thomas was drafted by the Broncos in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft. A product of John Fox's first draft class as head coach of the Broncos, the Portland State product has not seen a lot of time on the field due to constant ankle injuries through the first two seasons of his NFL career.

2013 marked the first time Thomas entered training camp at full health.

Although Tamme and Dreessen are both veterans who are still productive at this point—they combined for 93 catches and seven touchdowns last season—Thomas' potential could exceed both tight ends' individual outputs.

Outside of injuries, one of the things that held Thomas back from earning more playing time was his lack of ability to block.

It's not surprising that Thomas wasn't an effective blocker coming out of college. He played one year of football at Portland State University, where he was better known as a basketball player, helping Portland State clinch two NCAA tournament appearances.

Tight ends who had similar career paths to Thomas—Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates—both struggled at the beginning of their playing careers with blocking.

The one trait that all three tight ends showed straight out of college?

The ability to catch the football.

Although Thomas has rarely seen the field—he has one career catch for five yards in two seasons of NFL experience—he has shown the ability to be a key receiver in Peyton Manning's offense during offseason activities.

Peyton Manning said, via Stapleton:

He's a great athlete. A big target. If you can't complete a ball to Julius as a quarterback, something is wrong with you. He has a great wingspan and great size and jumping ability. I think he's just continuing to get better for us.

Due to Thomas' prior experience of playing college basketball—combined with his 6'5" frame—he will be one of Denver's key receivers in 2013.

Thomas was known as a physical power forward in college, and he uses that same physicality on the football field.

Similar to Thomas, San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates played power forward at Kent State University before making the full-time transition to football. Ten years after debuting in the NFL, Gates is one of the greatest tight ends ever to play the game. He is the Chargers' all-time leader in receptions. 

In basketball as a power forward, you are taught to use your size along with the ability to box out to shield the opposing player from rebounding the ball.

This is an effective skill to use in football—as Gates and Gonzalez have shown—as you have to use your body and a certain amount of physicality in order to get open and make catches as a receiver in the NFL.

This is what Thomas has shown all throughout the offseason to his teammates.

It is only a matter of time before he shows off his skills to opposing teams.

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