Julius Thomas had the benefit of receiving 24 touchdowns in two seasons from a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Peyton Manning.
That’s huge for any tight end. That scoring proliferation helped Thomas secure the top contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, cementing his place as a key cog in the massive Jaguars rebuild.
Ready to get down to business, Thomas is going eager to prove that he is more than just a byproduct of Manning’s abilities. As writes Cian Fahey at Bleacher Report:
"Leaving Manning is such a big deal for receivers because his ability directly creates more high-quality opportunities for his targets. Manning understands how to find his receivers when they have favorable matchups, while his accuracy makes it easier for receivers to physically catch the ball."
While this is all true, it’s tough to disagree with the talent that Thomas has displayed. He has some of the best hands among tight ends in the NFL and he is able to adjust his body to make catches that even some wide receivers would be enviable.
The biggest concern for most people isn’t just that Julius Thomas is trading in Peyton Manning, but that he is also trading in a host of other play makers along with him. He’s losing a Hall of Fame arm as well as other weapons like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders that made his success in Denver that much easier.
In Jacksonville, he is target number one (for now) and he is going to have to prove that he can handle that responsibility and the focus from the defense that comes with it.
That kind of focus could come in the part of double teams, forcing throws to Thomas to be made in much tighter windows. That could be a problem for Blake Bortles, as he struggled with interceptions during his rookie campaign.
For Thomas, it isn’t about him scoring that keeps him motivated, however. He knows that his being double teamed will open up opportunities for other players. He’s ready for that. He’s ready to be the threat that allows the offense to succeed overall. While the move to Jacksonville was demonized by some Denver Broncos fans as selfish, it’s clear that Thomas is willing to sacrifice the sexy stat sheet for overall offensive success (the money doesn’t hurt, either, of course).
What it all comes down to in the end is whether Thomas and the Jaguars offense define success and stardom as the sexy stat sheet or as seeing the overall offense improve because of his presence. I think the former is much more important overall, especially with the Jaguars needing to get opportunities for its other young players to develop.
While Thomas is trading in his better quarterback, his better surrounding players, and his better opportunities to pad his own stat sheet, he’s clearly getting the attention and priority placed on him that his abilities deserve. The Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t all Julius Thomas, but his presence does allow them to be far more flexible and far more capable on the whole.
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