Julius Thomas must come up big

ByJEFFRI CHADIHA via <a href="http://espn.go.com/" title="ESPN" class="espn_sc_byline">ESPN </a>
January 31, 2014, 6:08 PM

&#151; -- JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Of all the Denver Broncos receivers who might impact Super Bowl XLVIII, tight end Julius Thomas isn't generating nearly enough attention. He's not as dynamic as Pro Bowl wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, as accomplished as slot receiver Wes Welker, or as productive as Denver's second-best wideout, Eric Decker. But anybody who's watched the Seattle Seahawks' defense understands that Thomas is facing the biggest challenge of his young career. How he handles it will go a long way toward determining who wins this game.

The Seahawks have had an uncanny knack for making star tight ends vanish during this postseason. They met New Orleans Saints Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham in the divisional round and held him to one catch. They faced another Pro Bowler, San Francisco's Vernon Davis, in the NFC Championship Game and limited him to two receptions for 16 yards. It wasn't as if those players didn't have quarterbacks who were trying to get them the football, either. They simply disappeared in the shadows of a defense that has been as punishing as any in recent memory.

This is what Thomas is up against and why his performance will be so intriguing. The third-year veteran blew up this season -- his 65 receptions and 12 touchdowns earned him his own Pro Bowl selection -- and he's been a dangerous third or fourth option in the Broncos' scheme. With Welker working the shorter underneath routes, Thomas has been able to torch secondaries on deeper patterns up the seams. At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, he has also been a reliable force in the red zone; quarterback Richard Sherman will dominate the spotlight. Now we'll see if Thomas can take his game to heights that clearly will be difficult to reach.

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