Julius Thomas and Sustainable Fantasy Football Production
A much-deserved butt slap is in order for anyone who had the gall to plug Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas into their Week 1 lineups.
Probably he will finish the season’s first week as the top scoring tight end in fantasy football, after five catches, 110 yards, and two touchdowns. I started Thomas in a couple leagues — a not-so-humble brag, I know — and was reminded of the unbridled joy that results from deploying a boom-bust guy and getting the boom.
The question remains: can Thomas sustain any semblance of consistent fantasy production in a Broncos offense stuffed to the gills with pass-catching talent?
Wes Welker predictably absorbed much of the underneath action against the Ravens, hauling in nine passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns. This, however, wouldn’t be the first time Peyton Manning supported an elite fantasy slot wide receiver and a dependable top-tier tight end.
Here’s a snapshot of Thomas’s usage against Baltimore. Fantasy points per route run (FPPRR), as a refresher, is a per-route measurement of player’s fantasy production — a much more reliable measure than points per snap, for instance. FPPRR is made possible through Pro Football Focus‘ compilation of route running data.
|Player||Pass plays||Routes Run||Targets||Catches||FPPRR|
That FPPRR is downright silly. That’ll happen when two of your five catches go for scores.
Thomas’s routes run are a bit on the disturbing side, as most elite tight ends run more than 30 routes per game, though not all. Dennis Pitta, last year’s No. 7 fantasy tight end, ran just 24.8 routes per contest. Jason Witten led all tight ends in 2012 with 39.4 routes run per game. That’s ridiculous.
Below is a look at Manning’s tight ends’ production over his past four seasons. I’ve combined Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen in 2012 (they were in a route-running timeshare) and Clark and Tamme in 2010, as Clark missed 10 games that year.
|Player(s)||Year||Fantasy Points||TE Rank||Routes/Game|
|Clark and Tamme||2010||140||TE2||35.8|
|Tamme and Dreessen||2012||133||TE4||36.2|
That, I must say, was an encouraging little exercise. Even fantasy obsessives should be shocked by the combined production of Dreeseen and Tamme last year, as neither was fantasy relevant.
It seems unlikely at best that Thomas will plunge into a value-destroying tight end timeshare even when Tamme and Dreessen are at full health, as Denver beat writers said time and again this summer that Thomas stood out in training camp, sometimes appearing to be a larger version of Demaryius Thomas.
The per-game tight end fantasy production for Manning’s tight ends has been remarkably consistent too.
|Tamme and Clark||2010||8.7||.24|
|Tamme and Dreessen||2012||8.6||.23|
Offensive pace shouldn’t be overlooked in Thomas’s long-term fantasy projections. The Broncos ran 74 plays from scrimmage Thursday night — a startlingly high number that could have eclipsed 80 if they hadn’t built a huge lead in the second half.
The more plays, the merrier, especially in an offense oozing with weapons. Manning’s frantic pace, if it keeps up, plays right into Thomas’s hands. His opportunity, in other words, could be kept afloat by mere play volume.
Thomas played all 74 of Denver’s offensive snaps in the opener, more than any skill position player other than Manning.
Selling high on Thomas might be worthwhile if you can bring back a chunk of fantasy profit, so don’t discount it just because Thomas made you feel so damn smart against Baltimore.
For those who wrongfully charge that the tight end position is shallow in fantasy football, and have subsequently pooh-poohed Thomas’s Week 1 performance as little more than an aberration and a bit of good luck, I think the above numbers say otherwise.