If fantasy football owners weren't already falling all over themselves to grab Julius Thomas in their draft, Sunday's preseason showing will leave them drooling.
The Denver Broncos tight end scored the first touchdown of the game against the San Francisco 49ers on a 17-yard reception. He also became the answer to a future sports trivia question, per the NFL:
Other than the touchdown, Thomas finished with three receptions for 35 yards. While he finished behind Demaryius Thomas, the tight end was once again a dominant force inside the red zone.
As he showed last season, he's also a physical mismatch for any opposing team. On Sunday, he was able to take advantage of that against the Niners, as Kirk Morrison of Fox Sports 1 noted on Twitter:
I guess I should say covering Julius Thomas w/ a safety as well is a mismatch. Touchdown pass from Manning to Julius Thomas w/ safety on him— Kirk Morrison (@kirkmorrison) August 17, 2014
Thomas has also been maturing through matching up with a veteran during training camp. Thomas spoke about playing with and against DeMarcus Ware, via David DeChant of DenverBroncos.com:
No question, going up against him is going to make me a better blocker. But then for him to take the time to really talk to you about the things that are happening in practice – if he notices that I’m doing something too consistently and it’s showing him a tendency, instead of just abusing you out there, he’ll tell you, ‘I know what’s coming because you’re doing this,’ or ‘I know what your offense is doing because of the things that you’re doing.’
While he certainly won't be considered higher than Jimmy Graham, his value is rising.
After the departure of Eric Decker, Thomas has the potential to become the No. 2 target for Peyton Manning. Emmanuel Sanders was added during the offseason, but the rapport with Manning shined through on Sunday for Thomas.
For those who might have forgotten, Patrick Smyth of the Denver Broncos notes the stats for Thomas from last season:
Julius Thomas w/TD. Had 65-788-12 last season, marking only 6th time in NFL history a TE has reached those totals for catches, yds & TDs.— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) August 17, 2014
Who is the No. 2 tight end in fantasy football?
If Thomas can remain healthy for a full season, he has a chance to solidify the spot as the No. 2 tight end in fantasy leagues. As Tim Heaney of USA Today points out, Thomas and Rob Gronkowski are battling for the No. 2 tight end coming into the season.
Gronk may wind up being the No. 1 target for the New England Patriots, but he's far from a lock to stay healthy. With Thomas' athleticism and size in the red zone, his consistency makes him the better player for now.
Holding an average draft position of 3.06, Thomas can be had much later than a player like Graham and is typically behind Gronkowski. While he's behind him in ADP, FantasyPros.com ranks Thomas ahead of Gronkowski at the position.
Tack on the fact he's just 26 years old, and he's a dream player for keeper and dynasty leagues. If fantasy owners didn't already have Thomas high on their list, the tight end is the perfect addition for any league.
Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.