Just how bad of a blocker is Julius Thomas?

Pop Quiz: How bad of a blocker is Julius Thomas?

  1. Julius Thomas is a terrible blocker
  2. Julius Thomas is the worst blocker in the NFL
  3. Julius Thomas is the worst blocker in NFL history

Ask a Broncos fan these days, and it seems those are the only three options. There's no room for nuance. It doesn't matter whether he improved from 2013 to 2014, and apparently, it doesn't actually matter how well other receiving tight ends fare in blocking. Everyone's suddenly an expert on tight end blocking skills, and JULIUS THOMAS IS THE WORSTEST.

See, Thomas appears to be on his way to a different NFL city, so he's a completely overrated player, so the story goes.

No, Thomas hasn't been terrific as a run blocker. According to PFF, he graded out at minus-4.7 while run blocking in 2014.

But here's the thing: his overall blocking numbers are actually pretty decent, because he graded out at plus-4.0 on screens and plus-1.2 in pass protection. His overall blocking grade was plus-0.5 including postseason, and it's worth noting that he was asked to block on 48.5% of his snaps.

Here's a news flash for those who suddenly think run blocking is the most important trait for a receiving tight end: most receiving tight ends aren't very good blockers.

Before we all fall in love with Denver's next tight end, let's see how Julius ranked in overall blocking among some of the league's more prolific receiving tight ends in 2014.

Here's how to read the table below. 32 tight ends were targeted at least 40 times during the 2014 season. PFF breaks down blocking into three categories: run blocking, screen blocking, and pass blocking. Screen blocking and run blocking get rolled into one Run Block category on their tables, so that's why Julius is listed at minus-0.7 rather than minus-4.7.

I've added the last three columns to show how often these 32 tight ends were asked to block, whether for pass pro or in the run. I think this is useful, because it shows how each player was used within his offense. Block % is blocking snaps divided by total snaps, and Rank is each player's standing among the 32 players in terms of how often they were asked to block.

Tight Ends with 40 or more Targets in 2014, Ranked by Overall Blocking Grade

# Name Team Snaps Pass Block Run Block All Block TA Rec. Yds TD Block Snaps Block % Rank
1 Travis Kelce KC 688 0.8 6.8 7.6 81 67 862 5 286 41.6% 19
2 Delanie Walker TEN 788 0.9 5.7 6.6 100 63 890 4 406 51.5% 6t
3 Brent Celek PHI 827 -0.1 6.3 6.2 47 32 340 1 511 61.8% 1
4 Jared Cook SL 706 0.8 3.4 4.2 91 52 650 3 278 39.4% 21
5 Dwayne Allen IND 788 1.3 2.7 4 60 40 485 9 280 35.5% 26
6 Rob Gronkowski NE 1063 1.8 1.9 3.7 152 98 1328 15 447 42.1% 18
7 Jason Witten DAL 1190 2.8 0.7 3.5 101 75 837 5 646 54.3% 5
8 Jimmy Graham NO 790 -0.2 3.1 2.9 121 85 889 10 241 30.5% 30t
9 Martellus Bennett CHI 981 -1.4 4 2.6 125 90 916 6 392 40.0% 20
10 Zach Ertz PHI 603 -1.9 4.1 2.2 86 58 702 3 187 31.0% 29
11 Jermaine Gresham CIN 900 2.3 -0.3 2 78 62 460 5 519 57.7% 3
12 Jace Amaro NYJ 380 -0.2 1.6 1.4 52 38 345 2 126 33.2% 28
13 Greg Olsen CAR 1243 -0.2 1.4 1.2 131 91 1103 6 605 48.7% 10t
14 Scott Chandler BUF 769 1.4 -0.8 0.6 67 47 497 3 274 35.6% 25
15t Julius Thomas DEN 754 1.2 -0.7 0.5 67 49 542 12 366 48.5% 12
15t Charles Clay MIA 766 -2.9 3.4 0.5 81 58 605 3 353 46.1% 16
17 Eric Ebron DET 489 -0.7 0.9 0.2 49 28 269 1 166 33.9% 27
18 Luke Willson SEA 727 -0.3 0.3 0 48 28 441 4 414 56.9% 4
19 Andrew Quarless GB 715 -0.4 -1 -1.4 48 33 354 4 336 47.0% 13
20 Heath Miller PIT 1177 -7.1 3.8 -3.3 98 72 842 3 597 50.7% 8
21 Jordan Reed WAS 377 -2.1 -2 -4.1 65 50 465 0 115 30.5% 30t
22 Owen Daniels BLT 946 -1.2 -3.6 -4.8 88 56 638 5 437 46.2% 15
23 Vernon Davis SF 853 1.8 -6.9 -5.1 47 26 245 2 398 46.7% 14
24 Larry Donnell NYG 889 2.5 -12.1 -9.6 87 63 623 6 346 38.9% 22t
25 Coby Fleener IND 961 -4.8 -5.8 -10.6 97 58 871 8 367 38.2% 24
26 Levine Toilolo ATL 958 -0.7 -10.4 -11.1 49 31 238 2 467 48.7% 10t
27 Niles Paul WAS 585 -0.6 -11.5 -12.1 51 39 507 1 293 50.1% 9
28 Antonio Gates SD 787 0 -12.8 -12.8 98 69 821 12 225 28.6% 32
29 Jordan Cameron CLV 487 -3.1 -10.5 -13.6 42 24 424 2 251 51.5% 6t
30 John Carlson ARZ 779 -3.2 -13.5 -16.7 53 36 375 1 347 44.5% 17
31 Mychal Rivera OAK 845 -0.3 -17.3 -17.6 91 57 528 4 329 38.9% 22t
32 Jeff Cumberland NYJ 926 -4.7 -14.8 -19.5 43 23 247 3 545 58.9% 2

Some observations:

Obviously, the most important takeaway here is that Julius Thomas tied for 15th among the 32 receiving tight ends for overall blocking grade. This does not match the theory that he's a terrible blocker. Yes, his run blocking left a lot to be desired, but there were several players with far worse grades there.

Feel free to dispute how PFF grades, while claiming to be a better football evaluator than those hacks at PFF. However, be prepared to check the film on every play for all 32 of these receiving tight ends, and get back to us when you're done with that, which should be roughly 11 years and four months from now.

Only 11 of the other 31 tight ends were asked to block more often than Thomas was. This is important context, for wherever Julius ends up, and who replaces him in Denver.

Owen Daniels graded out worse than Julius; his split was minus-1.2 pass blocking, plus-0.5 screen blocking, and minus-4.1 run blocking. Something tells me that when Daniels replaces Julius on the Denver roster, we're going to hear all about how much better of a blocker the new guy is. At least as far as PFF is concerned, that's not remotely true.

Jordan Cameron has been discussed as another possible replacement for Thomas; his season was shortened by injury in 2014, but when he did play, he was an atrocious blocker. He's been injury prone throughout his career and is a far worse blocker than Julius. Again, it will be interesting to see how he's portrayed in Broncos Country, should he replace Julius Thomas.

We'll be back later in the week with a discussion of Julius's receiving stats. But for now, chew on PFF's blocking grades for a while.

Doug is IAOFM’s resident newsman and spelling czar. Follow him on Twitter @IAOFM

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