Welcome to another edition of ‘Where are they now?’ in which we look back at some past Denver Broncos who left a lasting impact on the franchise but perhaps are not as widely remembered by fans as Ring-of-Honor type legends
In this edition, we’ll check in on former tight end Julius Thomas, who spent time with the Broncos from 2011-2014.
As a two-sport star athlete at Portland State (having also been a standout basketball player), Julius Thomas’s diverse and unique athletic abilities as well as his size caught the attention of NFL scouts and coaches at the 2011 NFL Combine who would have been otherwise unaware of his existence.
Despite spending his college career in relative obscurity (with Portland State being an FCS school) and only one year of playing experience, he began climbing up draft boards soon after his combine appearance. His lack of experience against high-level competition kept him out of the early round, but the Denver Broncos were ultimately the team who took a chance on him, which occurred with the 129th pick (fourth round).
Like many athletes who jump from small schools to the NFL, Thomas required an adjustment period, and from 2011-2012, he only appeared in nine games and recorded one catch. The following season, though, he exploded forward like a freight train.
Perhaps it was due to second-year QB Peyton Manning officially finding his comfort zone with the Broncos' offense, but he immediately found a connection with his young tight end, despite having established studs like Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker to throw to. After a solid preseason, Thomas had five catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns in week one, as he officially announced his arrival to the big leagues.
In his first season with a featured role, he recorded 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns, earning him a Pro Bowl selection.
While his 2014 season was not quite as productive as his first, he still had several standout performances, including a three-touchdown game in the opener which tied Shannon Sharpe’s record for single-game touchdown receptions by a tight end. He finished the year with 43 catches for 489 yards and once again 12 touchdown receptions, earning him a second straight Pro Bowl selection.
Following the 2014 season, in which the Broncos lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional playoff round and also saw the beginning of the physical decline of Peyton Manning, Thomas signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency for the 2015 season.
Thomas’s contract with Jacksonville was for five years and $46 million, but after two productive yet injury-plagued seasons, he would be traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2017. He started admirably for the Phins, but he would once again get injured towards the end of the season and be released the following offseason.
Despite being just 29 years old, he decided to retire rather than pursue his playing career further, and he instead chose to get a doctorate in psychology in hopes of studying CTE and its effects in order to help players.
What has Julius Thomas been up to?
As mentioned above, Thomas would retire following his short stint in Miami as he decided to pursue a new passion in psychology. To better explain his decision, he wrote an eloquent piece for The Players Tribune in which he detailed his journey through the NFL to his new pursuit and his desire to help players with CTE and mental health issues.
He describes in one portion his realization that he wanted to help players at risk for CTE, which most players are at high risk for.
I started to feel aligned, to feel a sort of calling to study brain trauma. It just sort of fit. I knew I wanted to help and knew that this would be a great way to help football players, to be that person who could help them understand what we all are at risk of. I felt inside that this was stuff I needed to understand.
And then it all came together.
Football has serious cognitive risks, but there’s still a lot to learn about the extent of them and ways they can be mitigated. The ability to assist with the latest research being done on brain trauma and the pursuit to better understand CTE. To study it not just from the perspective of a psychologist or a clinician, but also as a person who has played for several years at the highest level, is something that excites me. It fills me with a sense of purpose. It’s a way to help while growing intellectually that I had been searching for. I know I have so much to learn, but that’s what I’m most looking forward to.
Since that article was written, Thomas has made good on his goals, as he graduated in January 2023 with a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University.
Degree in hand, he hit the ground running and has since been working to spread his knowledge and help others as much as he can.
One venture he has been involved with is a company he started, Mastery Development, in which he offers services for mental health in wellness improvement in areas like executive coaching, team workshops, and group speaking events. As part of Mastery Development, he also offers services for parents and young athletes as they take on the journey that is both the physical and mental demand of athletics.
Here is a snippet from the Mastery Development website explaining his mission:
With my company, Mastery Development, we go beyond the ordinary and push into the extraordinary. We uncover what it really means to be at the top of your game. It’s not just about being physically prepared; it’s about mental being mentally prepared as well. Fortitude, emotional balance, and mental flexibility are key mental performance factors that we all should have.
In addition to his role at Mastery Development, he is also the co-founder and Chief Health and Performance Innovation Officer for NESTRE (which stands for NEuro-STREngth), described as a “mental and cognitive strength training and solutions company that leverages neuroscience and AI/Machine Learning technology to personalize how people get better, feel better, and perform better.”
His role with NESTRE primarily involves him leading company strategy initiatives and offering his acquired expertise to best serve the company’s mission. And when he’s not doing all that, he is also a player advisory board member for the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University.
From being a featured part of one of the greatest NFL offenses to ever exist to a renowned psychologist with a goal of helping current players, former players, and anyone willing to improve their mental health and wellness, Julius Thomas certainly deserves a spot in the minds of Broncos Country as a selfless, phenomenal former athlete and person.