JERSEY CITY, N.J. — The Philadelphia Eagles have a scout who watches college basketball, looking for potential football players. He searches for players like Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas.
Before Thomas was a part of the Broncos’ lethal receiving corps — four players with at least four touchdowns in the regular season — he was a forward for Portland State preparing to play Xavier in the 2009 NCAA tournament.
“This isn’t something that I imagined doing when I was 20 years old getting ready to play in the NCAA tournament,” Thomas said. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘Man if you just fast-forward that clock a little bit, you’ll be competing in the biggest game in America.’ “
Thomas is the latest in a trend of college basketball players who became Pro Bowl tight ends, following Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and Jimmy Graham. He said college basketball is loaded with players who can make an impact in the NFL. Thomas’ conversion into a football player at Portland State in 2010 led to the Broncos’ taking him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.
He has used his third NFL season to emerge as a major difference maker, and that has helped the Broncos become the NFL’s most prolific offense entering Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks.
“It seems kind of odd to say my goal was to become a professional football player in one year,” Thomas said, “but some guys had done it before me and had some success.”
Thomas finished the season with 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. He joins top receiver Demaryius Thomas (no relation), who had 92 catches for 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns; Eric Decker, who finished with 87 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns; and veteran Wes Welker, whose injury-ravaged season still included 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Demaryius Thomas and Decker were major pieces of the offense last season, and they’re the primary outside receivers. Welker is one of the NFL’s elite slot receivers. Julius Thomas’ production as a tight end adds a different dimension because he is often too big for a cornerback to cover.
“I think he helped a lot,” Demaryius Thomas said. “That opens up the field for everybody else. You really can’t focus on one person once you’ve got five people on the field that are capable of getting open. It’s easier for our quarterback.”
The two Thomases have been the top targets in the two postseason games. The Broncos will need Julius Thomas against the Seahawks’ heralded defense, especially with Demaryius Thomas likely being covered by Richard Sherman.
Although Sherman’s talking has generated headlines during the last two weeks, Demaryius Thomas has seen what Sherman can do to opposing receivers. He called Sherman the best cornerback of the NFL.
“I’m not going to say ‘shut him up,’ but I’m going to go out and try to make some plays,” Demaryius Thomas said, “so I don’t have anybody coming up to me saying I got shut down by Sherman.”