Draft review: S Phillip Thomas

Draft review: S Phillip Thomas
May 4, 2013, 11:30 am
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When the Redskins’ offseason workouts begin later this month, there will be a single opening in the starting lineup. 

And rookie Phillip Thomas hopes to fill it.

Thomas, the team’s fourth round selection a week ago, appears to possess the physical tools needed to be Washington’s starting free safety against Philadelphia on Sept. 9.

But that’s not all Thomas has working in his favor. According to Coach Mike Shanahan, he’s also “very quick mentally,” an attribute he displayed during a pre-draft meeting with Redskins coaches. And then there's the familiarity factor; Shanahan noted that Thomas “played a lot of coverages that we play” as a senior at Fresno State, which employs a 3-4 scheme that’s similar to the Redskins’.

Does that mean Thomas is a lock to be the Week 1 starter? Of course not. He’s going to face intense competition from eight-year veteran Reed Doughty, fellow rookie Bacarri Rambo and others. But it does suggest that Thomas possesses many advantages that other first-year pros don’t.

“You never know for sure until they get out here and start working out,” Shanahan said when asked about Thomas’ ability to win the starting job. “But we feel good with the guy we drafted."

As for the stuff that did show up on film, well, that makes a pretty compelling case for Thomas, too.

He recorded 84 total tackles last season, returned three of his nation-leading eight interceptions for touchdowns and forced four fumbles en route to becoming Fresno State's first unanimous All American selection. And he did all that after missing the entire 2011 campaign with a broken left leg and dislocated ankle.

Some draft prognosticators had Thomas, who grew up a Redskins fan in Bakersfield, Calif., pegged as a possible late second round pick who would surely be gone by the end of third round. So it was a bit of a surprise that he was still available when the Redskins were up at No. 119.

It’s unclear why Thomas slipped. Was it the fact that he played in the Mountain West Conference and not against SEC competition? Perhaps. The lack of “top-end timed speed” as NFLDraftScout.com notes? Maybe.

Whatever the reason, most scouting reports anticipate Thomas evolving into a solid pro – if not a notch better.

NFL.com compares Thomas to Bengals safety Reggie Nelson.

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 thebackfield if not accounted for.

NFLDraftscout.com says Thomas plays like Titans safety Michael Griffin.

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.

This collection of highlights underscores Thomas' ability to adjust to the ball in the air to make some acrobatic interceptions. There’s also a pretty impressive de-helmeting of a wide receiver.

This video focuses on Thomas’ nine-tackle effort against Boise State last season. In it, he makes a handful of nice stops, including a couple in the open field and one at the goal line.

When Thomas spoke to reporters via conference call moments after being picked last Saturday, he told the room, “I’m going to be the steal of the draft.”

Time will tell, but it won’t be a big surprise if Thomas’ brash prediction comes true.