Former Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas ditched a powerhouse when he came to the Jacksonville Jaguars. He got greedy, and he chased the money clear across the country -- all the way to a small market team with nothing more to offer than a paycheck.
This is the storyline that eclipses all others.
Never mind the Jaguars’ overwhelming need for a playmaker in the receiving game, or Thomas’s adaptability when playing multiple positions in multiple scenarios -- an attribute that should pay dividends within a young, inexperienced offense.
No, Thomas is stuck on a struggling team with no chance at getting within earshot of the numbers he once put up with his Hall of Fame quarterback in Denver.
Then again, that’s not exactly what the numbers say.
Everyone expects Thomas' extraordinary production to decrease now that he resides in Jacksonville. This is a completely fair assumption. Jacksonville is not Denver. This team has won nine games in the last three seasons, and the offensive insufficiencies have been very well documented along the way.
Of course it’s fair to assume that Julius Thomas’ touchdown count will drop this season. Thomas caught 12 touchdowns in 13 games last season. The Jaguars, as a team, struggled to compile 15 passing touchdowns in 16 games. It's downright unrealistic to expect to see the same success on the Jaguars in 2015 that Thomas enjoyed as a member of the Broncos in 2014.
It’s reasonable, however, to expect Thomas’s overall production to go up now that he resides in Jacksonville... and it’s all thanks to new offensive coordinator Greg Olson.
Olson, in one word, is an adaptor. I broke down his offensive philosophy -- or lack there of -- in an article from January. In short, Olson's adaptability leads to his offenses typically straying away from implementing a grounded offensive scheme, trending towards building momentum around individual pieces within the offense instead. His years as Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator (2008-2011) are perhaps the most illuminating of his coaching approach as a whole. Olson’s Tampa offenses from 2009 to 2011 very closely resemble the Jaguars 2014 offense -- perhaps not in terms of success or personnel, but within select statistics.
From 2009 to 2011, Tampa Bay averaged 536 pass attempts. The Jaguars had 557 attempts in 2014.
What we should focus on within these pass attempts is Olson’s implementation of Bucs tight end Kellen Winslow from 2009-2011. Josh Freeman, Tampa’s raw franchise quarterback at the time, struggled on several occasions to create in the passing game. Olson employed Kellen Winslow as much more than just a safety blanket, propping his entire offense up on Winslow’s ability as a pass catcher in an effort to make the game simpler for his young passer.
Over Winslow’s peak years between 2009 and 2011, he averaged 115 targets per season. Julius Thomas, between 2013 and 2014, averaged only 76 targets. Winslow, at his best (2009), accounted for almost 25% of the Buccaneers’ total team targets. Thomas, at his best (2013), accounted for 13% of the Broncos’ total team targets.
You can easily assign the difference in output to many different factors. Peyton Manning undoubtedly had more weapons to work with in Denver than Freeman had in Tampa, and Julius Thomas has battled several injuries throughout his career that have stolen games from his production total.
But then again, doesn’t that bolster the argument that Thomas’s production could rise as a Jaguars player? Greg Olson’s offenses have been notorious for conforming to the playmakers within. Olson will certainly focus on providing the Jaguars' young, raw quarterback -- Blake Bortles -- with an outlet of production, just as he has done in the past. If Thomas can remain healthy, he has a shot at being a huge contributor in the Jaguars’ 2015 offense.
Of course, the added value from one premier player probably won’t double the Jaguars’ touchdown count. The team won't mirror Julius' former squad in Denver, and he will most likely fail to obtain the level of admiration he achieved as a Bronco.
So the storyline will continue – Julius won himself a paycheck, and the money carried him to a less productive team.
The ongoing argument concerning Thomas’ inevitable decrease in production, however, doesn’t appear to be very realistic. If Olson's Jaguars offense looks anything like his groups from the past, Thomas' jump in production will soon be the new storyline.