The Jacksonville Jaguars picked up free agent Julius Thomas during this past offseason, but there’s a lot of speculation about how Thomas will perform now that he is not on the Denver Broncos being led by one of the greatest QBs of all time: Peyton Manning. In theory, a talented tight end should thrive anywhere once he learns the plays and the patterns of his teammates, but in reality, this isn’t always the case. There is often a certain synergy between the QB and his targets and someone that does well under one QB might not have any positive impact with another.
Going from a legend like Manning to a second year starter like Blake Bortles will impact Thomas in some way. Thomas had 12 touchdowns last year at TE. Bortles threw a total of just 11 in his 14 game appearances last year.
The first reaction to this is that for Thomas to have any sort of impact–both to help his team succeed and to give himself any sort of fantasy football value–the QB (whoever it ends up being) will need to step up their game. Bortles will more than likely not be posting the same kind of numbers that Manning has the last two years. Thomas has benefitted a lot from Manning’s presence on the field, and Bortles does not have the same kind of accuracy that Manning does. Bortles posted a completion rating of 58.5% last year. Manning had a 66.2%, his worst posting since 2007. Bortles should show marked improvement now that he has some NFL experience, but he probably isn’t ready to post Manning-type numbers yet.
Thomas also fractured his hand earlier this preseason. He’s still slated to start in Week 1, but his health is something that you should question. If you are playing in a daily league, he might be worth skipping over in Week 1 until you can get a feel for how well he will hold up physically. It also gives the Bortles/Thomas pair an extra week to get a better feel for the other before you start relying on them too heavily.
Now, here’s the good news. With Thomas in Jacksonville, he will be targeted much more often than he was last year. He had 60 targets last year and 43 receptions. That puts him near the middle of the list as far as TEs and their popularity with their QB. His 12 TDs, though, put him in a three-way tie for first in the NFL. The other two at this position (Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates) had 131 and 98 targets, respectively. If Thomas’s targets go up, it’s likely that his fantasy value will go up too. But, that’s only assuming that the rest of his team is able to pull their weight in the same way that Denver could. He needs to be in good field position much more often than Jacksonville usually is if he’s to have a TD number anywhere near the double digits. If you are in a roto league, then Thomas is definitely a good choice if you can draft him easily. His receptions numbers are bound to be much higher than ever before thanks to the weaker offense of his new team. If you’re in a points league, such as how daily fantasy sports leagues work, Thomas might not be the best choice–depending upon the point structure of the league that you are within. Touchdowns are generally valued higher than receptions, and Thomas averaged almost 1 TD per game last year. He will be great at patching in holes either way, though, so do keep him in mind at TE regardless of how things are structured where you play.