Julius Thomas is the big gain for the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason. The highest paid player on the roster, Thomas is expected to provide a reliable option for young quarterback Blake Bortles and spark the offense.
That’s a lot of pressure on a tight end who specializes solely as a pass rusher, but this is the state that the Jaguars find themselves in.
Make no mistake, the offense ultimately rests on the shoulders of Bortles, but Thomas is the leverage the team is using to get Bortles to the next level.
The most appealing part of the prolific tight end’s game is his scoring. With 24 touchdowns over the last two seasons at Denver, he’s expected t come to the Jaguars and provide some big opportunities for a unit that ranked dead last in points scored.
Without Peyton Manning at quarterback the scoring is expected to drop off a bit, though. Manning is a rare talent and a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Blake Bortles still has his whole career up in the air right now. Julius Thomas could help with the transition, but how will he be involved?
Based on the offseason buzz, it’s clear that Thomas will be involved heavily in the offense. New offensive coordinator Greg Olson loves to involve his tight ends, especially two tight end sets, so seeing Marcedes Lewis and Thomas on the field at the same time should be a regular occurrence. Further, Thomas is arguably the most dependable receiver on the Jaguars roster right now, with a lower drop rate (as calculated by Pro Football Focus) than every wide receiver except Allen Robinson.
Seeing Thomas get target after target isn’t unthinkable in the 2015 season. So, just how often will he get looks?
Last season, Julius Thomas saw just 60 targets, catching nearly 72% of those passes. That’s good for 20th in the league per PFF. the year before, he saw 88 looks, good for ninth in the league. He caught nearly 74% of those passes.
Last season, Allen Hurns and Cecil Shorts both saw more than 88 targets through the course of the season. Shorts was unreliable, racking up drops and Hurns was unproven. With Shorts now gone, Hurns back in the lineup, Allen Robinson expected to be even more reliable and on the field, and the coming of Marqise Lee (third in targets last season), will there be room to throw the ball to Thomas more?
With a bigger emphasis on the running game, we shouldn’t expect Bortles to toss the ball nearly 34 times a game like he did last season. I imagine that Allen Robinson may prove to be the most targeted player in the receiving game, but will he end up with more than 100 targets like Shorts did in 2014? That’s nearly a quarter of all balls thrown by Bortles last season. If Bortles has less passes to spread around, expect the primary pass catcher to drop off in comparison to last season.
Following Robinson, Thomas could very well get the most looks. Thomas was targeted fourth most on an high-flying Denver Broncos the last two seasons. He was behind some impressive receivers in Denver while he will be among the best receivers on the team with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Looking at the competition on the team and the goal of Olson as OC, I think we’ll see Thomas get in the neighborhood of 70-80 targets this season. If he still catches around 70%+ of those passes, then he will be a very involved part of the offense. If Bortles can get a lot of those targets and catches in the end zone, then Thomas could be well positioned to continue his high-scoring production with the Jaguars.
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