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Dynasty Standoff: Jordan Cameron vs. Julius Thomas

Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas make for a tough choice in Dynasty.
Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas make for a tough choice in Dynasty.

We’re moving into the middle of summer here and moving along in our Dynasty Standoff series where we compare similar caliber players and tell you who we would pick in a start-up dynasty fantasy football league draft and why based on our evaluation of 5 scoring categories: age, durability, talent, situation, and cost.

Part 1: Keenan Allen vs. Michael Floyd
Part 2: Calvin Johnson vs. A.J. Green

With an arbitrator just ruling that Jimmy Graham should be considered a tight end, we figured this time around we would go ahead and compare two new-breed tight ends that are primarily receiving options for their teams: Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas.

These two players are young, athletic, and talented former basketball players that converted to football at a late stage. They both had very quiet starts to their careers before breaking out in their third pro seasons last year and contributing to an enormous number of fantasy football trophies. They are a lot alike, but now we’ll break them down and try to find the differences.

Fantasy Football Stats

As always, we’ll start by referencing the raw stats in case anyone needs a refresher on what they accomplished last year.

Jordan Cameron: 15 GP, 117 targets, 80 rec, 917 yards, 7 touchdowns. 133.7 standard fantasy points (#5 TE).
Julius Thomas: 14 GP, 89 targets, 65 rec, 788 yards, 12 touchdowns. 150.8 standard fantasy points (#3 TE).

Jordan Cameron vs. Julius Thomas: Age

Jordan Cameron: 8/8/1988 (25.9 years)
Julius Thomas: 6/27/1988 (26.01 years)

Plain and simple, Cameron is the younger of the two men, but only by a little over a month’s time. Because that difference is completely negligible, we’re just going to call it a draw even though it’s not technically correct.

Advantage: Draw

Jordan Cameron vs. Julius Thomas: Durability

Relatively healthy for the season, Jordan Cameron missed a single game in 2013 with a concussion. Before that he missed 2 games in 2012 with another concussion while operating in more of a back-up role. With what we know now about concussions and how seriously they’re being taken by teams and smart players, him having two concussions already in his short career is a real concern.

Cameron could go on to play 10 more years and never have another head injury, but there’s a non-zero chance he could have 2 more concussions next season and have to consider retirement. Other than the concussions, Cameron has only had some minor offseason nicks.

Julius Thomas missed 2 games in 2013 with a knee sprain and also missed some practice time throughout the season with an ankle injury. Prior to 2013 Thomas had struggled mightily to stay on the field for similar reasons. He essentially missed the entire 2012 season recovering from ankle surgery and he missed almost all of his rookie season to yet another ankle injury. Amazingly, Thomas had just 1 career catch before he broke out.

Julius has obviously not been the model of durability thus far, but given the options we’re presented with here, I would certainly prefer another leg injury to a concussion going forward.

Advantage: Julius Thomas

Jordan Cameron vs. Julius Thomas: Talent

Like fellow hoops player Jimmy Graham before him, 6 foot 5 and 245 pound Cameron went to the Combine and proved to be an athletic marvel. He ran a 4.59 forty-yard dash and he finished top 3 in every drill he tried except for bench press where he was 5th place. He may look like a regular dude, but he is one of the best examples of “freak athlete” at the position.

After spending a couple of years developing football skills for the first time, Cameron united with two of the most tight-end friendly play-callers and was set free in 2013. On the field, it was obvious last year that Cameron has the rare ability to extend and contort his body like a smaller wide receiver while retaining the ability to leap over a defender and catch a tightly contested ball Graham-style. He is a clean, strong hands catcher and with his body control, he can truly catch almost any pass thrown in his vicinity. This was and is especially useful in the end zone.

Cameron is also excellent after that catch, again showing rare skills for his position with the ability to stop and start in short spaces. In many ways Cameron is unique. A lot of tight ends are called bigger wide receivers, but maybe no one in the NFL currently exemplifies that more than him. If there was one knock one Cameron, it would be that he isn’t the same kind of physically imposing brute like a Graham or Gronkowski that can muscle through defenders. Even so, I very much like his game and that was only after his first year starting.

Like Cameron, Julius Thomas is another 6’5″, 245-250 pound and incredibly athletic former basketball player. Cameron bested all of Thomas’ pre-draft drill numbers, but Thomas still had great times himself like his 4.64 forty-yard dash. As noted before, Thomas barely touched a football field before 2013 and he still completely blew up.

Because of the style of offense and the players around him, it was hard to get a good feel for Thomas’ talent level when watching him last year. With defenses having to account for all the wide receivers and Peyton Manning putting the team in advantageous plays, there were many times Thomas just ran as fast as he could to a spot and the ball would be there for what looked like an uncontested and easy large gain or touchdown. This isn’t to say that he isn’t capable, I just didn’t see the same kind of leaping ability and stretching ability to win “dirty” catches.

While Thomas’ timed speed was slightly slower than Cameron’s, it did appear to me that he was better able to burn by defenders both down the seams and out wide. Again, that could be a product of the offense, but it was something I noticed. Thomas did look good after the catch, but it wasn’t in the same style as Cameron. Rather than making a series of moves and cuts, Thomas would make one critical move that freed him up to use his straight-line speed to do the rest.

In the end I thought Cameron just displayed better football skills while Thomas was mostly an athlete and being surrounded by great players. It’s quite possible Thomas has more football skills than he has shown but just hasn’t had to use them, and if not it’s possible he will develop those abilities in the future – he’s still very new to the game. At this point in time though, I have a hard time believing Cameron couldn’t have put up even better numbers than Thomas did if he were playing in Denver last year.

Advantage: Jordan Cameron

Jordan Cameron vs. Julius Thomas: Situation

Other than all the ownership, front office, and coaching scandals, we’ve started to see the Browns turn things around over the past few years and wash away the negative aura of being a complete dearth of talent. Much of that has come on the defensive side of the ball where players like Joe Haden reign, but players like Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron himself have done their part to flip the script on what was one of the worst offenses in football for many years. With one of the league’s strongest offensive lines, two young stud pass catchers, the arrival of slot receiver Andrew Hawkins, and three talented additions at running back, all that is missing from the Browns to be a prime fantasy situation (and winning franchise) is a legitimate quarterback.

We’re big believers in Johnny Manziel as a fantasy asset, but much of that allure comes from his uncanny ability to scramble around. As a passer, he may become above average in time, though it is unlikely he ever turns into Drew Brees with wheels. My guess is Manziel would be able to support two upper echelon starting fantasy players (Gordon, Cameron), however if the Browns were to grab a receiver in the 1st round of 2015, then things would get more complicated and the competition for targets could hurt Cameron’s production. The current state where Cameron is either the 1st or 2nd option is ideal.

If Manziel were to flat-out bust though, the team could be set back years and Cameron’s prospects become much bleaker. He did perform admirably last year with the likes of Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, and Brian Hoyer, but history has shown us bad quarterbacks have trouble sustaining a fantasy-friendly offense.

While it was the tiniest of sample sizes, it should probably be noted that in the two games Josh Gordon missed in 2013, Cameron averaged 10 targets and 13.15 fantasy points where as he averaged 7.46 targets and 8.26 points a game when Gordon returned. Of course, Gordon almost certainly will be sitting out all of 2014, giving Cameron the opportunity to soak up targets like a sponge. Even though the future is slightly murky for Cameron, this upcoming season has the look of a strong one.

On the other hand, Julius Thomas finds himself in one of the most desirable situations in all of reality and fantasy football as he is locked and loaded as the starting tight end for Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Thanks in part to the healthy return and emergence of Thomas, Manning and the Denver offense set tons of records and appeared in the Super Bowl. That probably won’t happen again in 2014, but Thomas could still put up even better numbers.

Gone in Denver is Eric Decker, quietly one of the NFL’s better red zone receivers. In his two years under Manning, Decker caught 172 balls and 33 scores. Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Cody Latimer were brought in to help offset that loss, but there should be more opportunities for Julius should he stay healthy and continue to develop. It would not surprise me if he led the NFL in receiving touchdowns this season.

Looking forward though, Manning is now 38 years old and realistically has less than a handful of seasons left. There will be a steep drop-off at QB for the Broncos once he’s gone – Andrew Luck isn’t taking over for him in this location. At the moment former 2nd round pick Brock Osweiler is the planned successor, but he was deemed a major project coming out of college and hasn’t had the opportunity to show whether or not he has improved under tutelage. In an offense with that many weapons fighting for looks, Thomas can’t afford for the QB to struggle and still put up excellent fantasy numbers. That could be an issue as soon as 2016.

With long-term uncertainty at QB for both players, I do give the edge to Thomas for having the much better situation in the present and near future. It’s still a close call as I would expect Manziel to become a better pro than Osweiler, but we don’t know that yet and there is always the possibility of Denver drafting another, better prospect once Peyton officially hangs them up.

Advantage: Julius Thomas

Jordan Cameron vs. Julius Thomas: Cost

While true average draft position sampling a large population of players is hard to find for start-up dynasty leagues, DynastyLeagueFootball.com’s ADP does a wonderful job and is the next best thing. Given how comparable these two players have been leading up to this point, it is surprising that we find Cameron and Thomas going a full round apart in the latest results. Thomas is 31st overall, just 3 picks after injury-bit Rob Gronkowski, and Cameron is slotted 44th overall. Although there’s a gap between the two, they are TE3 and TE4 respectively.

To me this says that a premium is being placed on Thomas for his massive potential in the next 2 or 3 seasons with Peyton Manning’s last breaths. But with how young these guys are and how long elite tight ends can last, plus the huge advantage they typically provide over the rest of the pack, I think that’s too short-sighted. At equal price, Cameron and Thomas are in a dead heat so with a round between them on average, I think Cameron is clearly the better value.

Perhaps there is some logic in thinking that with the injury track records, only one year of production, and unstable situations, neither player is probable to have lengthy, productive careers like a Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, or Jason Witten, so take the player who will help the most in the immediate future. I’m not inclined to agree, but I understand the approach.

Advantage: Jordan Cameron

Our final decision

As you probably could have guessed from the last segment, if the overall outlook of two players is as similar as it is, but one of them is a bargain compared to the other, I’m going to take the bargain every time. Today Jordan Cameron is that bargain. With all the raw athletic ability he possesses and the football skills he has shown in just a few years of playing the sport, I am excited about his future and could see him being a staple of fantasy football squads for years. Only concussions and maybe a messy quarterback situation could derail him.

As for Thomas, he’s not far behind but I need to see more from him to feel better about his odds of succeeding post-Manning era. I don’t think he’s entirely a Manning product, but we have seen a number of good, not great players put up great numbers in those offenses and then never replicate the same success with another QB.

The one situation I would consider taking Thomas over Cameron, at full market value, is if you were planning on building your dynasty with the intent of winning immediately. For instance, if you ended up with Jamaal Charles and Brandon Marshall for your first 2 picks and Thomas was on the board next time around, I would consider maximizing my potential fantasy points over the next 2-3 years while everyone is at their peak.

Winner: Jordan Cameron

Which player would you rather have in Dynasty?

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  • steelgatez

    I would take Cameron too I think you are on the money

  • camtheman1

    yeah Cameron is the right pick he is just a better player and may even be better in the short term with Gordon out

  • krs821

    You may want to change the picture in the graphic of Denver’s wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to Julius Thomas since you’re writing about him.