The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.
High Side by Chris Feery
A broken hand delayed the start of the 2015 season for Julius Thomas, and those expecting big things for his first season in Jacksonville were disappointed. He offered up similar starts to his 2014 campaign with the Denver Broncos in terms of receptions and yardage, but his total touchdowns dropped dramatically from 12 to 5. We can place a good part of that blame on the delayed start to 2015. He began to come on later in the season, and he delivered four of his touchdowns over the season's final two months. That helps lead me to an optimistic outlook on his 2016 prospects.
There are two prevailing schools of thought on the 2016 Jaguars. First, the defense should be improved this season. That will lead to less of a need for them to be slinging the rock throughout the game in an effort to play catchup, and Blake Bortles and the rest of the Jaguars stats will come back to earth. The second line of thinking agrees that the defense will be improved, but that it will mesh with the improved offense to lead to an even better overall product on the field. I fall in the second camp, and will even go as far as to say that the Jaguars could be in the mix for a Wild Card berth.
For Thomas specifically, I expect him to be an even bigger cog in the offense this year. He was reportedly very impressive at OTAs, and the Jaguars have plenty of other talent at the skill positions for opposing defenses to contend with. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns will not be sneaking up on anyone this season, and the Jaguars have put together a nice one-two punch at running back in the form of Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. Thomas could be even more of a factor in the red zone this season, and we could see his touchdowns creep back up closer to his 2013 and 2014 output.
Add it all up, and it's not too hard to envision a scenario in which Thomas finishes the season as a Top 5 TE in the major statistical categories. That viewpoint is not being shared in early drafts, and Thomas is currently checking in as TE11 and going off the board in the ninth round. Unless you're on the hunt to acquire the services of Rob Gronkowski, you can afford to be patient on a TE. If you're following that strategy, Thomas makes for an excellent selection at his current draft position, and could return some tremendous value in 2016.
Low Side by Jason Wood
Julius Thomas is part of the new breed of tight ends that are really just oversized wide receivers. While that kind of player profile may bring its own challenges and limitations to a coaches' playbook, it's exactly the kind of evolution that's made fantasy owners increase their interest in -- and willingness to draft early -- the position. I'm not going to argue that Julius Thomas hasn't been explosive at points in his five year career. I am going to argue that you're better off looking elsewhere at the position in 2016 drafts.
Problem 1: Health -- Thomas cannot stay healthy. Period. The guy has never played a full season. Let that sink in. Julius Thomas has never played a full season in five attempts. I realize predicting injuries is difficult, but I would argue that a player that can't suit up for a full 16-game even once in a half decade is a much better bet than most to miss time in future seasons.
Problem 2: Jacksonville is Not Denver -- Yes, the Jaguars passing attack was surprisingly productive last year. No argument. But the offense still paled in comparison to the Denver Broncos offenses with Peyton Manning executing at an all-time great level of precision. As we've detailed in other articles this offseason, the Jaguars are a prime candidate for statistical regression this year. I would be shocked if any Jaguars skill player matches last year's per-game fantasy point production.
Problem 3: The position continues to deepen -- When Thomas was scoring double digit touchdowns in Denver the position was better than it had been historically, but there were still only a handful of truly elite options. Now? You can draft 15-20 deep at the position and make a credible case for TE1 production. More depth also means more randomness. For my money, I'll take a flier on one or two later round tight ends that have similar lottery ticket upside to what Thomas can achieve.