The latest stop on our draft prospect tour is in Miami, with a mid-round project pass rusher that the Buccaneers could add to their group of defensive linemen.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were aggressive in their pursuit of defensive end help this off-season. They acquired free agent Vinny Curry, and pulled off a blockbuster trade with the New York Giants to acquire veteran Jason Pierre-Paul. Both of those moves will help generate significantly more pass rush than the Buccaneers had last year, but the team shouldn’t rest yet in their attempt to rebuild the defensive line.
While the Buccaneers likely won’t spend their first round pick on a defensive end anymore, the rest of their picks are fair game. Tampa will likely try to add a “project” player into the mix – a player with a very high ceiling who may not be ready to start right away. Miami’s Chad Thomas is a strong candidate if the Bucs choose to go with that strategy.
Thomas’s College Career
Chad Thomas played four seasons for the Miami Hurricanes, accumulating 10 sacks, 26 tackles for loss, 103 total tackles, 7 passes defensed, and 2 forced fumbles. Thomas was quiet as a freshman and sophomore playing mostly in spot duty as a backup. Thomas had just one sack in those two seasons, but started getting going as a junior, when he started 12 games and had a career high 4.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, and 37 total tackles.
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Thomas also played one of the best games of his collegiate career that season against Florida State when he got 2 tackles for loss, a sack, and four solo tackles. In Miami’s bowl game to close the season Thomas had another strong performance with a half-sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, and 4 solo tackles.
Thomas returned to school as a senior to build upon his draft stock and for the most part it was a successful choice. He set career highs in tackles and tackles for loss, and also tied his sack count from the year before. In the ACC championship against Clemson he shined with seven tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. Thomas disappointed at the combine, but his four year campaign at Miami should still put him in position to be a day two pick in the draft, likely in round three.
Chad Thomas has a lot of the things that you can’t teach. He is very much a classic example of a player with all of the measurables you could ask for and the right “look”. Thomas in that way is the defensive version of quarterback Josh Allen, who also has all the measurables but not enough production. Thomas measured in at 6’6, 281 lbs (nearly the same as Jason Pierre-Paul) with a 33 1/2 inch wingspan.
From a purely athletic standpoint Thomas offers a lot to love for teams. He bursts out of his stance and can take advantage of slower, more cumbersome offensive tackles to close the pocket in a hurry. Thomas has the capability to line up inside at defensive tackle on passing downs in the NFL, and that potential versatility will capture a lot of attention from teams who want to maximize usage of their draft prospects.
While Chad Thomas has many attributes that can’t be taught, there are a lot of things that he needs to be taught. Thomas disappears for long stretches and in four years at Miami wasn’t able to find consistency or get more than 4.5 sacks which is very worrisome. Thomas by most estimations seems to be missing the finer points of playing defensive end and the little things that push talented players to become elite players. He doesn’t have great instincts against the run and often times gets neutralized at the beginning of the play – it’s difficult to tell whether Thomas rushes with a plan or if he simply relies on his athletic gifts, so NFL teams will need to try to figure that out in their sit-downs with him.
Why the Buccaneers Need Chad Thomas
Tampa Bay has assembled a strong group of pass rushers to improve on their league-worst 22 sacks last season, but they still need to add a bit more young talent to the mix. Chad Thomas has that potential talent, and the Buccaneers have an experienced defensive line coach in Brenston Buckner who was hired in part to maximize talented, incomplete players.
Having a quality rotation of defensive ends is critical in the NFL and the Buccaneers seem to almost be there. Thomas would be a situational addition at first while he nails down the nuances of his position and becomes a more consistent performer. A rotation of Pierre-Paul, Curry, Spence, Gholston and Thomas looks extremely appealing.
Will it Happen?
Landing Chad Thomas will be a bit tricky for the Buccaneers. Because of the trade for JPP the Bucs are without a third round pick, which is the ideal round for Thomas to be picked. He wasn’t productive enough to warrant a second round selection, so the Bucs would need to hope that he slips to the fourth round. If that happens and the Bucs haven’t already spent a first or second round pick on another end, I could definitely see them selecting Thomas with their fourth rounder.