There was a great deal of talk about the Denver Broncos' passing game in the offseason. Very little of that talk revolved around third-year tight end Julius Thomas, who had one catch for five yards on his NFL resume.
Well, they're talking now:
Thomas was the unquestioned receiving star in the first half of Denver's 49-27 win over the Baltimore Ravens Thursday night, reeling in four passes for 97 yards and the first two touchdowns of his NFL career.
Thomas finished the night with five catches for 110 yards, finishing second on the Broncos in both catches and receiving yardage. This mini-explosion begs a question, especially outside of Denver: Who the heck is Julius Thomas?
It's not all that surprising that most football fans haven't heard of him. Until 2010, he hadn't even played college football, choosing instead to focus on basketball at Portland State.
It was a sport he excelled at, where he helped lead Portland State to the NCAA tournament in both 2008 and 2009. He decided to give football a go in his senior year, logging 29 catches for 453 yards and two touchdowns en route to first-team All-Big Sky honors.
Thomas' size and athleticism were enough to get him a look from NFL teams, and the Broncos made the 6'5", 250-pounder their fourth-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
From there, his professional career fizzled. Thomas barely saw the field in his first two seasons, making only one catch as a rookie. With veterans Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen nicked up in camp this year, Thomas was given an opportunity to run more with the first-teamers. Once that door opened, Thomas burst through it.
The 25-year-old reeled in 12 passes for 123 yards in the preseason, and when the Broncos took the field Thursday, it was Thomas who drew the Week 1 start at tight end.
He won't be giving that job back any time soon.
Now, before anyone goes putting carts before horses, one huge half does not make Thomas the second coming of Jimmy Graham. After all, wideout Kevin Ogletree caught eight passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns for the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 last year. Ogletree ended last season with 436 yards, and he now plays in Tampa.
However, Thomas certainly looks like a player who will stick around in Denver's offense. His speed creates matchup problems with linebackers; his size does the same with defensive backs.
Most importantly, Manning appears to trust him. Even after Thomas had his first target of the night jarred loose, Manning didn't hesitate to look Thomas' way again.
If Thursday night was any indication, Manning may look in Thomas' direction with some regularity this season. That must leave the rest of the NFL just shaking their heads.
Because the last thing they wanted to see was Peyton Manning get another weapon in the passing game.