When you look for a mold of an NFL safety, you think 6'0" plus, over 200 pounds, with good speed, great awareness, excellent quickness and reaction time, ability to lay the lumber, exceptional ball skills, and a high football IQ. Players that immediately jump to mind are the late, great Sean Taylor, Ronnie Lott, Ed Reed, and Eric Berry.
Even the most astute football historian will not bring up the name Phillip Thomas, and for good reason, as he's yet to see the field in an NFL regular season game, but make no mistake about it - Philip Thomas fits the mold of an NFL safety.
Phillip Thomas stands just under 6'1" and weighs a tad bit north of 215. He can play both strong and free safety. Thomas suffered a broken leg in the summer before his junior season at Fresno St. in non-contact drills, and missed the entire 2011 season. He came back with a vengeance as a senior, leading the nation with eight interceptions(three of which he returned for touchdowns), 12 tackles for a loss, four sacks, four forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery to go along with his team high 84 tackles. His stellar senior season earned him unanimous All-American honors, and he was named as one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe award, which is given each year to the nations top defensive back.
At the 2013 NFL scouting combine, Thomas recorded a 4.65 40, a 35" vertical, and had 14 reps at 225. He held his pro day about a month later, and improved his 40 to a 4.56 and 4.59, had a 4.15 short shuttle and a 6.78 three-cone drill. He was selected in the fourth round by the Washington Redskins, and the 25 year old safety hopes to make an impression in his second year in the league.
Thomas will have plenty of competition this summer at training camp as the Redskins chose to re-sign Brandon Meriweather, and offered a free agent contract to veteran Ryan Clark, who they plucked from Pittsburgh. Thomas is also joined by fellow second year player Bacarri Rambo, the diminutive Trenton Robinson, and rookie Akeem Davis. E.J. Biggers, who the Redskins also chose to re-sign this offseason, has the versatility to line up at safety as well.
Jim Haslett has gone on record as saying he doesn't really label a strong and free safety, as he expects both players to be diverse enough to drop into single high coverage when needed, and also become the eighth defender in the box when asked, and this should play into Thomas' strengths. Coming out of college, many considered Thomas to be a strong safety, but he played more free safety at Fresno St., and his range and ball skills are also suited for this at the NFL level if asked to do so. It's this versatility that just may help Thomas earn a starting spot in a questionable secondary this season.
The biggest strength of Thomas is his play recognition and closing ability. When I watched him on film, I saw a smooth athlete, with decisive instincts and superior closing ability. He makes up so much ground when the ball is in the air, and much of this has to do with his ability to recognize and read routes, anticipate throws, and the ball skills to deliver when he gets there. He rarely takes false steps, and is astute when it comes to proper angles, and high-pointing the football.
He is not afraid to come downhill and deliver a jarring hit on the ball carrier in run support, and his ability to come off the edge in blitz situations is above average. Where Thomas does a nice job in run support is playing the runner from the inside out. He keeps his head up when tackling, and uses his angle to create little space for the runner to cut back.
Phillip Thomas was my favorite safety in the 2013 rookie class, and I was ecstatic when the Redskins selected him. I had a second round grade on him coming out of college, and I think his unique skill set plays well in the NFL. The question on Thomas is can he remain healthy, and is he ready to step up his game and win a starting role on this defense.
I for one can tell you I would not bet against this kid. I believe, had he been able to avoid injury as a rookie, that he would have won a starting spot sometime during his rookie season. I have no reason to believe the bigger, stronger Thomas won't see a lot of action this season, and with a solid camp, maybe even earn himself a starting spot in our questionable secondary.
In the future, when you look for a mold of an NFL safety, Philip Thomas' name may be the one you choose.