What Could Julius Thomas Do for the Oakland Raiders?

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Jan 11, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas (80) against the Indianapolis Colts in the 2014 AFC Divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Colts defeated the Broncos 24-13. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After an appearance on Bay Area sports radio in which he stated that he wouldn’t “rule out” signing with Oakland as a free agent after his contract expires in March, the rumor machine has gone nuts. Several reporters, bloggers and speculators have opined on the strong possibility that Thomas could join the Raiders, who are coached by the former defensive coordinator of Thomas’ Denver Broncos.

Julius Thomas, a 4th round pick of the Broncos in 2011 out of Portland State, is nearing the end of his rookie deal as the team faces a number of tough decisions in free agency with the contracts of Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas nearing an end. The situation in Denver is made more complicated by the firing of coach John Fox and his staff and the arrival of a new coaching staff headed by Gary Kubiak, as well as the imminent end of Peyton Manning’s career, which may come any day now, or may last for another season. The Broncos are unlikely to franchise tag the young tight end, and if he chooses to turn down any contract offers they do make, he will be an unrestricted free agent beginning March 1st.

Julius Thomas is widely considered one of the most promising young talents of the 2015 free agent class, and many Raider fans are excited about the idea of adding Thomas to the Raiders roster, and justifiably so. Thomas will be only 27 when the NFL season starts, and has been selected to two straight Pro Bowls in only two years as a full-time player.

In his first two years with Denver, the young Thomas didn’t see the field much, logging a single reception in both seasons combined. But he emerged early in the 2013 season as a valuable target for Peyton Manning, catching five passes for 110 yards and 2 TD’s in the 2013 regular-season opener against Baltimore. Thomas played well throughout the year, and despite missing two games with an injury finished with 65 receptions for 788 yards and 12 TD’s, the latter number good enough for third among all NFL tight ends that season.

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Thomas started 2014 off strong as well, catching 38 passes and 12 TD’s through the first nine games of the season, including a 7 reception, 104 yard, 3 TD performance in the opener against Indianapolis. He was injured during a Week 11 loss to the Rams and missed a few weeks before returning in a limited role and finishing the year with 43 receptions for 489 yards and the 12 TD’s. Despite the drop in production and the injury, he still finished tied for first among NFL TE’s in TD receptions, and his 24 receiving TD’s through two seasons is near the top of the NFL for all positions over that span.

Thomas, when healthy, was more than just a reliable 3rd-down option for Manning in the Broncos offense, as he was also a popular red-zone target and deep seam target for Manning. He accounted for 19 plays of 20 or more yards over the past two seasons. And, should he indeed not be re-signed in Denver, he will be the best tight end on the market.

Next: Thomas Vs. Mychal Rivera