In a November 2011 article about Thomas in the San Francisco Chronicle, former Stanford and current 49er defensive coordinator Vic Fangio aptly summed up scouts feelings about the versatile defender: He was born to play football. While quarterback Andrew Luck and the Cardinals offensive line received well-deserved hype over the past couple of seasons, Thomas impressed his coaches and pro scouts alike by wreaking havoc in opponents backfields.
The Georgia native redshirted in 2008 to add to weight to his lean sub-200 pound frame coming out of high school. He played 13 games, starting eight, in his freshman year after stepping in for injured defensive end Erik Lorig (36 tackles, seven for loss, four sacks). He earned honorable mention All-Pac 12 accolades as a linebacker in Fangios 3-4 scheme by leading Stanford in tackles for loss (11.5) and tying for the lead in sacks (7.5). His playmaking skills flourished as a junior, garnering All-American and first-team All-Pac 12 honors by increasing his production (17.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks) for the second straight season.
The Stanford program didnt miss a beat after losing Luck to the NFL. Riding the strength of their running game and defense, they lost just one game (in overtime to Notre Dame) and largely shut down many high powered offenses. Thomas had another year of gaudy production (71 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks) on his way to earning first-team All-Pac 12 honors once again.
Versatile edge defender who finds the ball regularly and has made plays at linebacker or defensive end. Displays violent and strong hands to get past the shoulder of his blocker on an edge rush or disengage when containing his side. Works his way though trash well on this inside, showing a bit of quickness to cut into the A-gap for run plays (or B-gap as a blitzer), work his man upfield on the pass rush or spin inside to take advantage of that lane. Good club and swim move inside. Mirrors pretty well in coverage, takes good angles to running backs in the flats, and gets physical with tight ends and crossing receivers. Usually beats tight ends and running backs when they pass block against him. High-effort player, hustles through single blocks and doubles to the ball, consistently chases plays from behind, and keeps his balance after taking on linemen at the second level. Has enough upper-body strength to separate the ball and create turnovers or slow down/stop ball carriers trying to cut past him.
Not an elite pass rusher with pure power, great flexibility or upfield speed to turn the corner. Also lacks top closing speed, relies on hustle to make plays. Lacks lengths and bulk, offensive tackles can keep him at bay and mirror him easily as an edge rusher. Needs to continue to get stronger, getting off blocks and keeping leverage will be a bit tougher against NFL linemen. Most of his pressures come against tight ends/running backs or inside stunts. Has good enough movement skills to handle coverage responsibilities in the flat, but quicker ball carriers cut past him in space and he struggles changing direction due to playing upright. One speed player who lacks burst off the ball on the edge or closing speed in pursuit.
An aptly-named defender who earned All-American accolades as a junior (17.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks) with great hustle and instincts, Thomas displays potential as a starter for teams needing a strong-side linebacker or utility defender that plays on the line of scrimmage. His lack of length and athleticism handicap his ceiling, but he has been an ultra-productive defender on a good defense. If he fails to develop into a starter, he should at the very least be a capable backup linebacker and special teams player. He will likely be chosen on the second day of the draft.
Future Hall of Famer
A once-in-a-generation type prospect who could change how his position is played
An impact player with the ability/intangibles to become a Pro Bowl player. Expect to start immediately except in a unique situation (i.e. behind a veteran starter).
A quality player who will contribute to the team early on and is expected to develop into a starter. A reliable player who brings value to the position.
A prospect with the ability to make team as a backup/role player. Needs to be a special teams contributor at applicable positions. Players in the high range of this category might have long-term potential.
A player with solid measurables, intangibles, college achievements, or a developing skill that warrants an opportunity in an NFL camp. In the right situation, he could earn a place on a 53-man roster, but most likely will be a practice squad player or a camp body.