Broncos tight end Julius Thomas was unstoppable at times last year. He scored 12 touchdowns in 14 games and finished third among TEs in fantasy points. He was so good that it's easy to forget just how new he is to the game.
Thomas was a four-year athlete at Portland State, but those years were spent on the basketball court. He played just one year of football in college and none in high school. His raw athleticism convinced head coach John Fox and general manager John Elway to take him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, but they understood that he was a project.
Thomas then spent two years battling injuries and honing his craft before his breakout game in the opening week of last season versus the Ravens in which he caught five passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas is now feeling more comfortable in the league, but he understands that he has a long way to go until he becomes a master. He admits that there were times last season when he felt lost.
"Would it be fair for me to say, 'Maybe a couple of weeks ago'?" Thomas said recently when asked when he finally started to feel comfortable with football. "Seriously. Last year, I was able to do a lot of good things. I kind of survived on self-confidence and athleticism. In one game, the defense did something, and Peyton (Manning) was like, 'Julius, did you see that?' And I said, 'Peyton, they got me; I had no clue what they were doing.' There are still situations I haven't been in before, and I'm still learning what to do."
This is scary. Thomas turns 26 years old next week, and there's no way we have seen him play his best football. With Manning looking like he has plenty left in the tank, it's realistic to expect that Thomas will improve upon his 65-788-12 line from last year. Since I don't believe in Rob Gronkowski's body to heal up and hold up, Thomas is the second-best fantasy tight end for my money.