Fantasy Football

2015 Fantasy Football: Julius’ Juice Not Worth the Squeeze

When Julius Thomas first injured himself back on August 14, it was believed that he would return by Week 1.

Two-and-a-half weeks later, that is no longer the case.

On Monday, the Jacksonville Jaguars revealed that their star tight end would likely require finger surgery, forcing him to miss at least the first 4-5 weeks of the regular season.

After playing three seasons with the Denver Broncos, the Jaguars opened up their check books by signing Thomas to a five-year, $46 million contract, a deal that made him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL. The Jaguars hoped that by signing Thomas, who had caught 24 touchdown passes the past two seasons, it would give second-year QB Blake Bortles a dependable red zone option. The Jaguars — and fantasy owners — will now have to wait at least a month to find out if he can earn his paycheck.

If you were unfortunate enough to grab Thomas in an early draft, you knew there’d be a chance he’d miss time, so you’ve probably already added a potential replacement. If you picked him in an MFL10 (best ball format), well, I hope you added a serviceable TE2.

Fantasy team owners who fall into the above categories can do little to fix the situation at this point, but for those of you who wait till the final weekend before the season starts to run your draft, he’s close to being undraftable. If you’ve just drafted in the past week or so, he’s droppable. And here’s why:

If he does indeed miss five weeks, you’re looking at a return on October 18 for a home matchup against the Houston Texans. He’ll then play the following week against the Buffalo Bills. Both teams’ defenses were ranked in the top seven last year. Now, let’s say he’s able to offer some production those two weeks, great, but the following week is the Jaguars bye. So Thomas will miss five weeks, immediately face two deadly defenses his first two weeks back and then have a bye. Owners would be looking at a best-case scenario of Thomas giving them points for two of the first eight weeks of the fantasy season. And I’ll put an emphasis on “best-case scenario”, because we won’t really know if he’ll return when his timetable suggests until a few weeks into his recovery.

A very similar situation exists with Antonio Gates. He’ll miss the first four weeks of the season while serving a suspension for PED use. But I’ve actually targeted Gates in many drafts. There are quite a few difference between Gates and Thomas despite their identical timetables.

  • Unlike Thomas, Gates isn’t hurt, so we know for sure that he’ll be back Week 5.
  • Gates has Philip Rivers throwing to him; Thomas has Bortles
  • When Gates is playing, he’s Rivers’ No. 1 option; Bortles’ affinity for Thomas is unknown
  • The Chargers averaged 21.8 point per game last year (17th in NFL); the Jaguars averaged 15.6 (32nd in NFL, which was dead last)
  • Gates has 146 catches on 215 targets the past two seasons; Thomas has 108 on 149
  • The Chargers threw 31 TD passes last year; the TD-dependent Thomas joins the Jags, who threw 15 TD passes last year
  • Gates has vowed to proved everyone wrong following his suspension; Thomas is known to have poor work ethic

And the most important thing….

  • Gates’ ADP is in the 11th round of PPR leagues; Thomas’ is in the sixth round

So you could essentially wait to draft Gates five rounds later, have him miss the same amount of games (or less) than Thomas and potentially get more fantasy production from him.

I’m not saying you have to go out and draft Gates — though I do love his value — what I am saying is that for a position like tight end, which I value the least in fantasy football, there are plenty of options to choose from besides Thomas.

If you already own Thomas, and assuming we’re not talking about a 14- or 16-team league here, tight ends like Heath Miller, Larry Donnell, Jared Cook, Jacob Tamme, Maxx Williams, Benjamin Watson and Derek Carrier are all going undrafted in most leagues, which means they’re sitting on your waiver wire. Those guys aren’t as prolific as Julius Thomas, but they’re good enough to get you points during the first five weeks of the season, something Thomas won’t.

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