Matt Waldman’s RSP Boiler Room examines Purdue tight end Bryce Hopkins and reveals a telling film example of the NFL Draft prospect’s awareness, body control, and toughness as a receiver.
Fans get excited about tight ends who can win in the vertical game but the dirty work under the noses of linebackers and safeties matters as much, if not more. Julius Thomas’s game is a good example.
A star talent from Portland State, Denver loved Thomas’s ability to stretch the field, rebound, and make plays in the open field. Thomas had a pair of Pro Bowl seasons in 2013-14, earning 24 touchdowns during that span with Peyton Manning at the helm.
With Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker creating matchup problems for defenses, Julius Thomas earned a 72.2 percent catch rate–the highest of the essential cogs of the passing game–benefitting from mismatches and open creases that his teammates helped generate. This isn’t to say Julius’s athletic ability and route running wasn’t a significant contribution to his production.
However, it’s notable that Julius didn’t earn a new contract with Denver. Three years later, after bouncing from Jacksonville to Miami, big Julius was out of the league. Among the reasons Thomas’s career took a downturn after Denver was what the Seattle Seahawks exposed with Thomas’s game in the Super Bowl.
Seahawks’ film study revealed that Thomas didn’t perform well against physical play. Seattle also knew that the downside of Peyton Manning’s aggression as a passer is impatience. Fans frequently mistook Manning’s movement in the pocket as a sign of anxiety when it was actually impatience.
Manning knew the right answers early enough that he could not wait to attack. He also liked to attack vertically and when a defense could turn that aggression into impatient behavior, Manning was prone to uncharacteristic mistakes of forcing the football.
Seattle created a gameplan that took away the deep game early and left Julius Thomas open underneath. The Seahawks bet that its linebackers and safeties could punish Thomas at the catch point and force him to drop targets.
This is exactly what happened early in the game and with Thomas dropping multiple targets, Manning grew impatient and tried to force the ball deep. The rest was a disaster for the Broncos and a championship blowout by the Seahawks.
Thomas needed toughness with his underneath game. It’s a prerequisite for consistent tight end performance in the NFL. Brycen Hopkins has demonstrated this toughness at the catch point as a shallow-zone receiver. If he can produce this way in the NFL, he’ll at least earn an H-Back role in two-tight end sets.
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