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Quiet giant: Browns LT Thomas' actions, not words, say it all

Joe Thomas picked a fishing trip over a trip to Manhattan for the 2007 NFL Draft.

He picked the quiet of floating on a boat over the bright-lights, big-city atmosphere that annually greets highly-rated prospects as they wait to learn whose colors they'll wear at the next level.

Thomas was content to keep his distance from all of the hype when he found out the Cleveland Browns had made him the third overall pick. It told you everything you needed to know about the man.

Since then, Thomas has continued to allow his performance to do most of the talking. And that's likely the main reason for the injustice he received in the form of a No. 43 ranking on NFL Network's "The Top 100 Players of 2011" list, as voted by players.

Thomas easily should be ranked much higher -- at least 15 or 20 spots higher -- because in four seasons he has proven to be so much more than a top-notch NFL player. He has, in the opinion of many coaches and player personnel evaluators, established himself as arguably the best left tackle in the game.

Offensive linemen understandably don't receive the same amount of love as players at high-profile positions. But there should be an exception here. The voters should have recognized that Thomas' remarkable consistency in both pass protection and run blocking, which has earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl every year he has been in the league, warrants him a better ranking among the best of the best.

However, because of his quiet and unassuming nature, Thomas was easy to overlook -- easier, that is, than normally is the case for someone who makes his living in the trenches.

Yet ask anyone connected with the Browns, and they'll tell you how vital Thomas is to their offense. They'll tell you how strong a leader he is, showing the way mostly through example but speaking up when necessary. Thomas' powerful presence, both on and off the field, was particularly important last season as the Browns broke in rookie quarterback Colt McCoy.

Thomas was one of the veterans who noted it was genuine confidence, not arrogance or bravado, that McCoy displayed the night before facing the Pittsburgh Steelers in his first NFL start when he stood up before the entire team and announced, "You can count on me." McCoy made good on the promise with a solid performance in a loss, then added to his credibility by leading the Browns to back-to-back victories over the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots.

When Thomas said McCoy had made "incredible strides" since his very shaky training-camp showings, it wasn't merely a politically correct offering to help his younger teammate feel good about himself. It was an observation from one of the most respected voices in the locker room.

But because the man behind that voice always has preferred to distance himself from the spotlight, he doesn't quite receive all of the respect he truly deserves.

Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.

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