Newton, of course, was the No. 1 overall pick in the '11 draft after leading Auburn to the '10 national championship, and he guided the Carolina Panthers to the playoffs last season. Thomas is seen by most analysts as a potential third-day (Rounds 4-7) draft pick.
Cosell calls Thomas "the best thrower in the 2014 draft class." He writes that Thomas has "somewhat scattershot accuracy" but also made "a significant number of throws that few, if any, of the quarterbacks in this draft can make." Cosell says the same was said of Newton, whom he described as "an erratic passer who frustrated and thrilled."
In addition, Cosell writes that "Thomas also lacks touch on shorter throws" -- and that Newton had the same issue.
"Here's the reality, which to many is inconceivable given the negative perception of Thomas and Newton's relative success in the NFL after three seasons: Thomas is further along as a natural passer than Newton was at the equivalent point in time, having played more games in college and learning an offense with far more complexities than Newton's Auburn offense," Cosell writes.
Cosell also writes Thomas has "an outstanding arm capable of making every NFL throw with little effort. ... Those quarterbacks do not come along in every draft. It makes Thomas the most intriguing quarterback prospect in this class."
No one doubts that Thomas is an intriguing prospect. He's a big guy (6-foot-6, 248 pounds) with great athleticism and a huge arm. But it's interesting that Pittsburgh's Tom Savage and SMU's Garrett Gilbert -- two other quarterbacks known more for their size and strong arms than their production -- are said to be ascending on draft boards, but not Thomas, who has far more tape than either of those guys.
That's the thing: Thomas' tape is maddeningly inconsistent. Arm strength never has been an issue. But every other thing that comes with playing quarterback has been an issue, from his mechanics to his decision-making to his accuracy. While he was a three-year starter for the Hokies who threw for 9,005 yards and 53 touchdowns, he also tossed 39 interceptions and completed just 55.6 percent of his passes.
In addition, his best season came in '11, when he was a sophomore. He seemed to regress as a junior and senior, two seasons in which he had a combined 10 games in which he completed fewer than 53 percent of his passes and seven outings in which he completed fewer than 50 percent.
Cosell is right: Virginia Tech's offense was more complex than the spread offense Newton ran in '10 at Auburn. Newton's completion percentage, though, was 66.1 percent and he tossed 30 TD passes and just seven picks. He had six games that season in which he completed at least 70 percent of his passes. In three seasons as a starter, Thomas completed 70 percent of his passes in three games.
To be fair, completion percentage is a tricky stat because of the differences in offensive schemes -- the spread is all about getting players in 1-on-1 matchups in space -- and the differences in competency among receivers (Thomas didn't exactly play with top-level wide receivers at Virginia Tech). At the same time, it's hard for receivers to make catches when the ball is sailing over their head or sailing behind them -- and if you watch Thomas' tape, you see a lot of those occurrences.
Newton also benefited from better offensive coaches than Thomas.
Thomas' physical attributes are noteworthy -- NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah said Monday on NFL Network's "Path to the Draft" that he has been told several teams have Thomas listed as a tight end on their board and have spoken to him about playing the position. Thus, that seemingly means there are a few teams that have seen Thomas' film and decided he can't be an NFL quarterback.
Yes, Thomas has an intriguing skill set. But it's also going to take a Herculean effort by an offensive coordinator and/or quarterback coach to turn him into an effective NFL starting quarterback. Even Cosell acknowledges that, saying Thomas "may never become a high-level NFL starter. I'm certainly not suggesting it's a given."
Actually, an effective starter, high-level starter and plain old starter are three different things -- and Thomas becoming anything more than a plain old starter would seem to be asking too much.