Can Julius Thomas Succeed In Jacksonville?


Julius Thomas went from caching passes from Peyton Manning to catching passes from Blake Bortles, two very different quarterbacks at very different stages of their careers. Thomas found major success with the Denver Broncos and Manning, but can he keep it up with second-year QB Blake Bortles, the same one who was dead last in Total QBR last season?

Here at B&T, we’ve covered whether Julius Thomas is overpaid. We’ve covered whether Julius Thomas can stay at an individual production level near Rob Gronkowski. We’ve wondered whether Pro Football Focus is right and he is a risk. Right now, we’re doing a lot of wondering.

There’s one thing we recognize, though: Thomas is probably going to see a decline in his raw productivity. We’re talking number of touchdowns, number of yards, number of targets and receptions. While I hope we see 10+ TDs from Thomas in 2015, the truth is that the Jaguars’ passing attack hasn’t been able to be that effective in years.

Defining success for the Jacksonville Jaguars is relatively easy: keep getting better. It’s a mantra drilled into the team by head coach Gus Bradley and it’s easily measured by the win/loss column.

For players, just getting better isn’t as defined. Does that mean less drops? Does that mean more yards? More yards after the catch? How do you measure better blocking?

For Julius Thomas, who is known for his receiving work, it may have to be based on how involved he is in the Jaguars’ offense. He no longer has a Demaryius Thomas and an Emmanuel Sanders on the outside to take pressure off him. The Jags young receivers are talented, but they aren’t on par with those proven receivers in Denver. Julius Thomas just went from being a threat among many to being the threat in Jacksonville.

If Thomas can overcome double teams and increased attention to still put up 40+ receptions and a handful of touchdowns, then we’re talking success in Jacksonville in year two of the Blake Bortles era.

If Thomas can open up opportunities for the young receivers to make plays and improve the overall offense’s production, then that is also success. Having a proven receiving threat – even if he isn’t getting the ball all the time – helps open up an offense that needs pressure off its running game and off its young outside receivers.

It’s the latter of the two that has me most excited. If Thomas’s skills don’t decline anytime soon, then the Jags have their first receiving target that demands attention since Justin Blackmon’s short run with the team (who we all hope comes back, of course). Even if he was a product of the Peyton Manning system in Denver, other teams know that he can cause some serious damage if left to his own devices. Taking pressure off the younger players may be critical for their development and for the success of the Jaguars’ offense.

Next: Could a Receiving Threat Come in the Draft?

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