2013 NFL Draft: Phillip Thomas Scouting Report
Phillip Thomas has been one of the most productive college football players over his career, even considering he missed an entire year because of a gruesome leg injury. He’s been in the Mountain West Conference, so there are some strength of competition questions. But when scouting lower levels of competition, you want to see players really stand out. And Thomas really stands out.
Over his three years, he’s broken up 15 passes, picked off 13 more, and returned four of them for touchdowns. He also had 17 tackles for a loss and forced six fumbles. His senior year was his best statistical performance, with eight interceptions (three touchdown returns), 12 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles, and even adding four sacks. He was a finalist for the 2012 Thorpe Award that recognizes the nation’s top defender. Due to his brutal leg injury and lack of mainstream coverage, he’s hardly a household name, but he projects as an early second-day pick.
Instincts: His biggest asset as a defender is his brain. He’s a smart, instinctive coverage safety who reads the quarterback well, and jumps routes because of his excellent anticipation. Sometimes he relies on his instincts a little too much, and he loses on some gambles, but he’s far more boom than bust.
Ball Skills: When he does break on the ball, he can click and close like a cornerback. He has great leaping ability and soft hands, and he tracks the ball really well. His 13 interceptions weren’t an accident.
Athleticism: Many players can pick off passes, but being able to return those interceptions is a distinct skill in itself. And Thomas has the open-field agility and vision and anticipation to return interceptions for touchdowns. He’s a smooth athlete with loose hips to break down and redirect in space. He didn’t return kicks in college, but he has the skill set to be a good returner, despite a lack of elite top speed.
Level of Competition: Any player from a lower level of competition comes with a caveat. He has the skill set to rise above that lower level, as he did in college, but he could take a few games to adapt to NFL game speed.
Speed: Playing Cover-1 and Cover-3-Press with a single-high safety is growing in popularity in the NFL, and most teams prefer their high safeties to have upper-end speed. Thomas ran a 4.57 at the combine, and his field speed does look a bit faster than that, but it may give some teams pause.
Thomas deserves far more hype than he’s already received. He’s a solid round two prospect whose skill set could appeal to a team enough to reach slightly and take him in the late first round. He can definitely start immediately in a Cover-2 scheme, and he could grow into a role as the last line of defense for a team. He can cover in the slot in a pinch, and he can be an outstanding special teams player. His ceiling is probably Indianapolis at 24th overall, and there’s no way he should fall beyond Washington at 51st overall.