Julius Thomas: The Real Gronkowski

Ronald Martinez

Examining the breakout of Bronco's star tight end Julius Thomas.

Julius Thomas is “The Real Gronkowski” and he is standing tall at Mile-High Stadium this season. The Broncos tight end has come out of nowhere this season to put up a ridiculous stat line through his first 6 games of 381 receiving yards with 7 TD’s. He is currently on pace for 1,016 yards and 18 TD’s on the year. So what can we make of Orange Julius up to this point and going forward in fantasy leagues? Let’s take a look at his background to get an idea of what the future might hold for the Bronco’s TE.

After his freshman year of high-school, Thomas was experiencing back pain that led his mother to talk him into giving up football and concentrating on basketball. Julius’ father played football in college for 3 years before retiring because of a torn meniscus. His father’s injury led the family in a different direction than football, as Thomas concentrated on basketball for his final 3 years of high school. After high-school, Thomas earned a basketball scholarship to Portland State University. He starred for the basketball team for 4 years and made two trips to the NCAA Tournament while setting school university records for games played (121), career wins (71), and career field goal percentage (.663). Thomas was also named to the Big-Sky All-Tournament Team twice.

Julius didn’t have the desire to play football again until his senior year in college. In 2010, after exhausting his basketball eligibility, Thomas decided to talk with Nigel Burton, the Portland State University head football coach, about his desire to play football again. Burton had no idea what to expect from Thomas on the football field, but was intrigued by his large frame and basketball skills. Thomas came out in 2010 looking like he had never stopped playing football, accumulating 29 receptions for 453 yards and 2 touchdowns during his senior year. His performance during his final year in college made NFL scouts take notice as he worked his way into the NFL draft conversation.

In 2011, the Broncos decided to trade up to select Julius Thomas in the 4th round at #129 overall. Through his first two seasons in the NFL, Thomas played in only 9 games due to injuries. For those 2 years, Thomas was mostly used sparingly and backed-up the team’s starters when healthy. In 2012 Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen saw most of the Bronco’s snaps at TE. Through his first two pro seasons, Orange Julius had caught just one reception for 5 yards.

Going into the 2013 season, Thomas was nowhere to be found on tight end fantasy rankings cheat-sheets. But then the other TE’s for the Broncos went down with injuries and opened the door for Thomas to star in Denver. So how does Orange Julius’ 2013 season compare so far to that of previous seasons for Gronk? Let’s take a look at the similarities. Top tier QB.…Check…Became one of his team’s top red zone threats….Check….Capable of going off and having a huge game anytime….Check.…Wes Welker in the slot.…Check…Surrounded by other offensive options to draw coverage away….Check….Become one of the NFL’s top TD threats….Check….

While I don’t expect him to keep up the TD pace he is currently on, Thomas has proven he will be a touchdown threat the rest of the season with Peyton Manning throwing to him. Thomas only trails teammate Wes Welker in the NFL in touchdowns to this point of the season. And he could actually improve his yards total going forward. In 4 of the Broncos 6 games thus far, Thomas has less than 50 yards. In the other 2 games, Orange Julius has at least 110 yards. So we know he is capable of putting up big yard totals anytime. If Thomas can stay healthy all year, he is very capable of finishing the season around 1,150 yards and 15 TD’s. Orange Julius will be a Top 3 TE option the rest of the year, and one of the few TE options capable of racking up huge point totals for fantasy teams every week.

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