Earl Thomas, S, Texas
Weight: 208 pounds
40 time: 4.43
A ballhawk in the secondary whose production was elite in his two years playing for Texas, Earl Thomas is the next in a long line of successful Longhorn defensive backs to enter the NFL.
A two-year starter for Texas, Thomas leaves Austin having recorded 149 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 33 pass breakups, and 10 interceptions in just two seasons of action; his best statistical season came in 2009 when he made 77 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 18 pass breakups (NCAA-leading 24 passes defended), and eight interceptions (second in the country).
An extremely instinctive player, Earl Thomas has terrific range in the secondary with great speed as well as some of the best closing speed in this year’s draft. He’s a very smooth, fluid athlete who changes directions as well as any defensive back in this year’s draft and he does a fantastic job of reading the quarterback and breaking on the ball; his ball skills are phenomenal, which is shown in the number of plays that he’s made on the ball the last two seasons.
I also love his high football IQ as well as his rare awareness and constant ability to anticipate what play is coming next and always being in the right position to make a play. Earl has shown the ability to climb the ladder and go up and grab the ball out of the air, while he’s also been an intimidating defender in the secondary who can deliver a punishing hit to jar the ball loose from the receiver.
Despite his small frame, Thomas is built very well with great strength for a player of his size (21 reps on the bench at the Combine). He loves to throw his body into the mix in the run game and he’s a very active defender around the line of scrimmage; he does a great job of cutting the runners’ legs out from underneath him on outside runs. What I really like about Early is that he’s a fiery, competitive player who plays with a passion for the game and was a leader on the Texas defense in 2009. Thomas also has experience lining up in the slot in coverage and could potentially move to cornerback at the next level, depending on what team he lands with. He also has some experience as a punt returner, having returned four punts for 58 yards the last two years and could also contribute here as well in the pros.
The only concern that I have with Earl is that he’s smaller than you’d prefer; he doesn’t offer the size to consistently disengage from blocks around the line of scrimmage and he also isn’t as tall as you’d like to see. He’s shown the strength needed to beat some blocks out on the edge, however he may struggle to do this consistently at the next level, which is why I’d like to see him add some bulk and more strength once he reaches the next level. He doesn’t have quite as much experience as scouts would like to see, however this doesn’t worry me; with how quickly Earl was able to make an impact at Texas, I think that he should be able to make the jump to the NFL quickly and without much trouble. I project that Thomas will be drafted in the first round, specifically among the Top 25 picks in the draft with the chance to go as high as the Top 10.
Earl Thomas is a player that I love in this year’s draft. He’s a flat out stud who has outstanding potential and upside at the next level. He offers top-notch intangibles as well as a great work ethic and leadership both on and off the field. I feel that he has the ability to make an immediate impact as a safety, while he may need a year to get used to playing cornerback full time if he has to change positions; I’d personally leave him at safety and let him go be a playmaker for my team. In my opinion, Earl may be one of the best defensive back prospects the Longhorns have produced in quite awhile and I think that he has the talent needed to develop into being an elite safety in the NFL.
Notes: Earl was named first-team All-American in 2009 and was a Freshman All-American in 2008. Coming out of high school, Earl was rated as the No. 19 player in the state of Texas and the No. 12 athlete in the country by Rivals.com. Over the course of his high school career, Thomas rushed for 1,850 yards 25 touchdowns and recorded 2,140 receiving yards and 14 receiving touchdowns, while also tallying 112 tackles, 11 interceptions, two kick return touchdowns, and two punt return touchdowns. A four-sport star in high school, Earl also lettered in baseball, basketball, and track, where he reached the playoffs in all four sports during his junior year. He lettered twice in basketball and averaged 10 points per game, lettered twice in baseball and played centerfield and shortstop while hitting over .300, and he lettered three times in track where he was successful in relays (he was a part of a 4x200-meter relay team during his junior year that reached the state finals) and in the long jump.
Thomas’ name is shooting up the draft board in the eyes of many scouts and NFL teams. He’s a bit undersized (only 5’10” and under 200 lbs.) but is a ballhawk that is a great open field tackler. Thomas comes out as a sophomore, so his body could still develop.
He is most certainly a NFL free safety, and if drafted by the “right” team in the “right” system, Thomas could be a very productive fantasy DB.