To continue with our look at 2013 Draft prospects for the Denver Broncos to consider, we come to the 3rd of four players that the team interviewed at the Senior Bowl. Let me introduce Phillip Thomas, a Safety out of Fresno State.
Phillip stands at 6’1", 210 lbs. and has a pre-Combine 40 Time of 4.57 seconds. He is listed as the 62nd overall ranked prospect and 3rd out of 143 Free Safeties although he has played Strong Safety as well. Thomas is expected to be selected in the 2nd round during the 2013 NFL Draft in April.
#16 Phillip Thomas is a 5th year Senior who was a Jim Thorpe Award finalist in 2012 and a unanimous 1st team All American (a first in Fresno St. history). His eight Interceptions led the nation and set a new Mountain West single-season record. Three of those picks went for Touchdowns. Thomas led the Bulldogs with 82 Tackles. He also added 4 Sacks, 12 Tackles For Loss, four pass breakups, 4 Forced Fumbles and one Fumble Recovery. It is no wonder he was a team captain.
Phillip’s sophomore season saw him break up a team-best 19 passes. He also recorded 3.5 TFL’s and two forced fumbles on the year.
As a Redshirt Freshman (2009), Thomas played in all 13 games and emerged into a game-changing player. He had two Interceptions, including a 21-yard Pick Six against Illinois in the season finale. Those two picks led the team on the season. He was 10th on the team in Tackles with 33 and had 1.5 for losses.
The Washington Post reports:
Scouts from all 32 NFL teams got an up close look at Thomas this week during the practices leading up to Saturday’s Senior Bowl. He displayed the fluidity, athleticism, anticipation and versatility that helped him earn all-American status as a senior.
Coaches have used Thomas at both free safety and strong safety, as a run stopper, pass-rusher and in man and zone coverages. Thomas hasn’t seemed to struggle.
"I’m good in the box, I can come down the line and make some tackles at the point, and I also have the range to play in the middle and get down the sideline and play the ball in the air," Thomas says. "It just depends on where a team picks me up and where they want me to be, I can play strong or free. I want to be able to do a lot of things. I don’t want to just sit back deep, because I can do a lot of things. A team that would let me do a lot of things, I’d be crazy happy."
Thomas credits Fresno State secondary coach Tim McDonald for the success that he experienced during his college career, and his apparent readiness for the NFL.
McDonald, a former Cardinal and 49er and six-time Pro Bowl player during 13 NFL seasons, taught Thomas the importance of dedicating himself in the area of film study. Thomas said doing so has helped him recognize opponents’ formations and tendencies, and thus, helps him play faster.
NFL.COM SCOUTING PROFILE
GRADE - 74.1
Based on his play as a junior, it looked as though Thomas was going to assert himself as one of the top safeties in the 2012 draft class. But a gruesome leg injury (broken left leg, dislocated ankle) suffered in a non-contact drill just three days before the 2011 season opener dashed those hopes. He appears to be in full strength for his second senior season, however, as the hard-hitting team captain with fair ball skills leads his defense in its first year in the Mountain West Conference.
A second-team all-state pick out of California, Thomas was a threat as both a defensive back and running back. His tenacious attitude made coaches place him on defense during his redshirt season, and earned him playing time in every game as a reserve in 2009 (30 tackles, 1.5 for loss, two interceptions). Thomas started 11 of 12 games played the following year, making 64 tackles, 3.5 for loss, forcing two fumbles, intercepting three throws and breaking up nine others.
Thomas returned from injury as good as new, leading the nation in interceptions with eight on the season, returning three for touchdowns. The senior also notched 84 total tackles, with 12 of them occurring behind the line of scrimmage, including four sacks. Add on another five pass breakups and four forced fumbles, and Thomas was a box score stuffer.
STRENGTHS Athletic, physical defender. Strong tackler with good length and the attitude to throw down ballcarrier. Breaks down well when approaching ballcarriers in space, has quick feet and agility to make the stop. Quick enough to stay with tight ends and some receivers in coverage, can undercut to knock away or pick off late throws. Nice ball skills to extend away from his frame to make the moderate-to-difficult interception. Sticks his nose in against the run when making that read, fills a hole, flows through traffic to find the ball, or adds himself into piles with reckless abandon. Comes downhill from two-deep look with speed. Adept blitzer off the edge, makes ballcarrier pay in the backfield if not accounted for.
WEAKNESSES Missed 2011 season due to a leg injury. Not corner-like in his change of direction ability in man coverage against quicker receivers, though more than adequate for an NFL safety. Can get nosey on play action, getting sucked up or failing to drop deep enough when starting around the line. Loses battles against better receiver blocks in the run game. Needs to prove he has the strength to stop pro ballcarriers in their tracks and be an intimidator in the back half when receivers come over the middle.
NFL COMPARISON Reggie Nelson
BOTTOM LINE A gruesome left leg injury forced Thomas to question his potential NFL future, but the senior was everywhere in 2012 and looked as good as new. He gets a bit tentative when closing on ball carriers, choosing not to meet them at the line of scrimmage unless lined up in the box, but Thomas thrives at going up and getting it in coverage. Reggie Nelson was mainly a center fielding safety while at Florida and during the early parts of his career, but transformed his game with solid coaching. Thomas may be able to do the same.
Blame it on the so-called "East Coast bias" or the horrific leg injury that ended Thomas' 2011 season before it even began. For whatever reason, the playmaking free safety has not generated the national attention he has deserved throughout a terrific career with the Bulldogs.
Blessed with good physical traits and even more impressive instincts and toughness, Thomas has proven himself to be a natural playmaker over four starting seasons with the Bulldogs. He's responsible for producing 20 turnovers (13 interceptions, six forced fumbles, one fumble recovery) over his career and joined Alabama's Dee Milliner and Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks as a finalist for the 2012 Thorpe Award as the nation's top defender.
It isn't difficult to understand why, as Thomas led the country with eight interceptions over the regular season (three of which he has returned for touchdowns) and forced five fumbles in leading Fresno State to a share of the Mountain West crown in its first season in the conference.
Only the fact that Thomas' success has come against WAC and Mountain West competition is likely to keep teams from using a top 100 selection on him.
A Thorpe Award candidate with an FBS-leading leading eight interceptions (including three he's returned for touchdowns), Thomas is the best safety most haven't heard of.
Positives: Well proportioned athlete with good straight-line speed, agility and terrific closing speed. Very good anticipatory skills. Recognizes where the play is going and arrives in time to make a play, whether it be against the run or the pass. Reliable ball-skills. Tracks the ball well, showing good leaping ability and soft hands to pluck the ball from the air. Physical hitter. Lowers his shoulder into the ball-carrier to make the forceful hit and wraps securely to assure the tackle. Possesses the light feet and surprisingly fluid hips to drop down and cover receivers out of the slot. Very good open-field running ability, due to his agility, speed and vision to be a threat with the ball in his hands.
Negatives: May not possess top-end timed speed some teams are looking for in a true center fielder against NFL passing attacks. Trusts his instincts and will occasionally get burned when gambling on play-action or double-moves by receivers. Missed the entire 2011 season with a broken left leg and dislocated left ankle that occurred during a non-contact drill just three days prior to the Bulldogs' first game.
Compares To: Michael Griffin, FS, Tennessee Titans -- Like Griffin, Thomas boasts an impressive combination of size, athleticism and playmaking ability.--Rob Rang
Phillip Thomas Scouting Report
SS/FS, Fresno State
+Plus height and solid bulk for the position.
+Physical player, strong upper body and overall strength profile.
+Able to anchor and drive his legs – rarely gets run through.
+Doesn’t have elite speed, but should run in the low 4.5 range.
+Gets to top speed quickly, accelerates well out of his breaks.
+Changes direction well, better forward/backward than laterally.
-Nasty leg/ankle injury ended his 2011 season before it began.
+Asked to play a lot of different roles – Single high / deep half / edge rush.
+Tough player, can see his passion on the field.
+Team captain as senior for Fresno State.
+Coachable kid, DB coach Tim McDonald has helped him with the mental aspects.
+Works hard in the film room, complements his instincts.
+Reads the Quarterback’s eyes well in zone, but doesn’t over-commit.
+Tracks the ball well in the air, disrupts a lot of catches.
+Excellent ball skills, led the nation with eight interceptions in 2012.
+Returned three of those interceptions for touchdowns.
+Able to disguise coverages, helps bait QB’s into poor decisions.
+Loose hips, fluid changing direction.
+Transitions well from his backpedal to closing.
+Gets his head around and locates the ball.
+Able to stick with backs and tight ends when asked to in man.
+Attacks the line of scrimmage, physical player.
+Big hitter that doesn’t have to lose fundamentals to deliver a blow.
+Excellent rushing off the edge, closes on the ball carrier quickly.
+Willing to take on blockers, can shed receivers, tight ends or running backs and make the stop.
+Made a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage – 12 tackles for loss as senior.
-Questionable angles taken on multiple occasions.
-Inconsistent open field tackling, elusive backs gave him fits.
-Doesn’t always come in under control, needs to sink his hips.
Phillip Thomas is one of the top three safeties in the 2013 NFL Draft class and if it were not for one small flaw in his game, he might have earned the top spot.
Thomas is the "Troy Polamalu" of the Bulldogs’ new 3-4 defense and does a lot of the same things that the Steelers safety is asked to do. He can attack the ball and receivers from a single high safety position, rush from the edge, support the run from inside the box, or cover receivers running down the field.
He has very good feet for a bigger corner and his physical play sets him apart from a lot of guys that can tally eight interceptions in a season.
Thomas’ major flaw is his open field tackling. He stays a little high through the process, failing to sink his hips to allow for better lateral quickness. Boise State and Oregon running backs especially were able to use this deficiency to bust some big runs.
If an NFL team can correct this issue, they will be getting a safety prospect that really understands the game, taught by a six time pro-bowl safety in Tim McDonald. Look for Thomas to be a top fifty pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
National Football Post Scout talk 1/2/13
7. Phillip Thomas, Fresno State, 6-1, 215. He missed his junior season with a broken leg but really helped himself in 2012. Thomas makes plays on the football. He is a very aggressive player who can be a striker. He has enough speed and cover ability. The more scouts look at him, the more they like him, and his stock might not be finished rising.
He missed his Junior year (2011) after suffering a broken leg and a dislocated ankle in a non-contact drill three days before the season opener. That didn’t seem to affect him in 2012, since he had a terrific season.
It’s easy to see why the Denver Broncos have shown interest in Phillip Thomas. He is a leader and can play both Safety positions. Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter, if he can return from his knee injury, have the starting spots all but penciled in, but the selection of Thomas could provide not only depth, but push the two youngsters to excel or sit. We have learned in the past, that a little competition is a good thing. Especially when our favorite team was starving for depth in the not so distant past.
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