Julius Thomas Could Outperform Last Year

Julius Thomas had a breakout 2013 that saw him earn a Pro Bowl nod. But he could have an even bigger 2014 season.

Since Julius Thomas was drafted in the 4th round of the 2011 NFL Draft, all we heard were his larger than life stories out of training camp.

The beat writers and media, along with the team, couldn't stop raving about the former basketball star from Portland State.

Unfortunately, we didn't see that talent come into fruition on the field, until 2013, because he simply could not stay healthy. Both his rookie and 2nd-year seasons, were cut short with season-ending injuries.

Before 2013, his career stats were 1 reception for 5 yards. It seemed like his once bright destiny was destined to fade into oblivion because of the injury bug.

That all changed because of two things. One, he finally managed to stay healthy. Maybe it's because in college and his early pro career, he hadn't quite developed an "NFL" body. His body simply wasn't prepared for the rigors of NFL football.

But under the direction of the Broncos' Strength and Conditioning Coach, Luke Richesson, and the training staff, Thomas was finally able to turn the corner and stay healthy beyond training camp.

Two, Peyton Manning came to town. Manning can make even the most average of NFL receiving talents look like Pro Bowlers. And Thomas is anything but average. Manning is a quarterback who literally raises all ships. Just ask John Elway.

Playing with Manning launched Thomas into the NFL stratosphere. He went from a relative no-name, except for in Broncos Country, to a fantasy football superstar and Pro Bowler.

In his first relatively full season as a starter with the Broncos, Thomas caught 65 balls, for 788 yards, and 12 touchdowns.

Like his teammate, Wes Welker, Thomas' value is most apparent on 3rd down. Last season he was responsible for 41 first downs. Think about that. That's what I call a weapon.

People are worried about missing Welker for 4 games, but don't forget about Thomas. He's a weapon inside and down the seams and poses a true mismatch for the opposing defense. Do you cover him with a defensive back? If you do, his size and strength will render said DB ineffectual.

If you put a linebacker on him, his speed and route prowess will result in the same. First downs. And touchdowns.

But as phenomenal as he was in 2013, he's going to be even more productive in 2014. We can't forget, he did miss 2 games last season.

Health willing, he should be able to clock 16 full games this year. And with Welker's absence and Thomas' bolstered familiarity with his QB and system, he is poised to compete with the likes of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski for the best tight end in the game.

Chad Jensen can be found on Twitter @CJ_Broncos.

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