Arkansas defensive tackle Robert Thomas is quickly catching the eye of NFL scouts, Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema said Wednesday on the Southeastern Conference media teleconference.
"The scouts are really, really high on him from what they've seen this year," Bielema said.
Thomas (6-foot-3, 318 pounds) has made 12 tackles on the season, 4.5 of them for losses, and has been credited with 1.5 sacks. For an interior lineman, that's significant production through three games. And for perspective, it's almost as much big-play production as he delivered all of last season.
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"(Thomas is) benefitting from getting under a new position coach. Charlie Partridge is a detail guy," Bielema said. "Robert is using his hands. He's engaging his second step as a defensive tackle, and that's a really, really big deal in defensive line play. He's making big plays because of it."
Thomas is also among the strongest Razorbacks in the weight room, as well. But it's Thomas' leadership, Bielema said, that may make the most impact.
"If I've got any issues on the football team with a player, be it class, social, whatever it is, Robert will go get that player, bring him to my office and sit him down with me so the three of us can talk," Bielema said. "He's helped so many kids, younger kids that need help. He's bringing a lot to the field, he's bringing a lot in leadership. He's been voted captain. The greatest thing is, that will help his NFL career."
The senior, now in his third year at Arkansas, plays a premium position when it comes to the NFL draft. Defensive tackles with legitimate pro potential are difficult to find. He's exceeded exclusively against non-conference competition to this point in the season, and will do so again Saturday at Rutgers. Following that, however, Thomas will hit a stretch of four SEC games that will go a long way toward determining his NFL draft evaluation: Texas A&M, at Florida, South Carolina and at Alabama.