COMMENTARY | In recent years, the position of tight end in the NFL has undergone a drastic makeover. No longer is a tight end simply an extension of the offensive line or a slightly larger target for the quarterback to check down for a quick completion. Tight ends like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates began a positional renaissance over a decade ago and with the emergence of athletes like Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, and others around the league, tight ends now provide offenses with enormous coverage mismatches nearly every week of the season.
For the Denver Broncos, expectations on offense are sky high entering the 2013 season. With quarterback Peyton Manning and a strong corps of wide receivers including Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker, the Broncos passing attack will look for another record breaking season, and by taking advantage of potential mismatches with a tight end might be exactly what the team needs to take another big step toward the Super Bowl.
Enter Julius Thomas.
Thomas is entering his third year in the league but has yet to make the impact the team expected when they drafted him out of Portland State in 2011. Then again, Thomas had submitted just one season of college football, spending most of his time on the basketball court as a power forward. He led the team to two NCAA tournament appearances before trying his hands, literally, at football.
And like Gates, Gonzalez, and Graham before him, Thomas is looking to make the transition from hardwood to the gridiron. If he can finally stay healthy, this season could be his breakout campaign.
Word out of the Denver OTAs is that Thomas has again emerged as a possible major impact player for the Broncos. Whether that will transition to the field once the season gets underway is an entirely different story, but based on what he can offer the team athletically, I believe he should be the starting tight end for the Broncos in 2013.
The team also has veterans Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen on the roster, and each of them has more experience and each has built a solid report with Manning in previous seasons. Dreessen recently underwent knee surgery and his absence from OTAs has allowed Thomas to shine as he gets reps with Manning and the first team offense. Thomas has played in only nine games in his two seasons due to a lingering right ankle injury. He injured it on his first pro reception in 2011 and required another surgery on it last season, limiting his production but not his potential.
With Tamme and Dreessen, the team knows what the ceiling is in terms of production. You know what you'll get from those two veterans in terms of blocking and catching passes. With Thomas, nobody knows exactly what his ceiling is. He could provide the offense with another weapon in their already immense arsenal and could develop into a reliable, difference making starter for a decade or more.
Andrew Majors lives in Denver and is an award-winning journalist who has previously worked as a sports editor, columnist, and freelance digital publisher. You can follow him on Twitter @AndrewMajors.