Height: 6'0" Weight: 223 lbs
College: Fresno State
Drafted: Fourth round, 119th overall (2013)
As a fourth-round pick in 2013, Phillip Thomas was expected to at least contribute on special teams right out of the gate. A Lisfranc tear in the preseason opener — his first game action as a Washington Redskin — ended his rookie season prematurely and dealt a blow to the young safety's growth. His sophomore campaign got off to a rough start as well, as he struggled through another bevy of injuries, but he finally made his debut in Week 9. He wasn't bad when he played, but another injury-plagued year could be the final straw for Thomas.
#1. Thomas starred as a strong safety for Fresno State, finishing his career with 178 total tackles and 13 interceptions over three seasons. He added 17 tackles for a loss, 28 pass breakups and six forced fumbles, and his name was all over the box score nearly every week as a fifth-year senior in 2012.
At 6'0" and 223 pounds, he has a damn-near-perfect build for a strong safety. Thomas is certainly known most for his ability to make a play on the ball, but he can lay the wood as well. He absolutely rocked Darren Sproles last year, and unlike many defensive backs who develop a reputation for big hits in college, he knows how to keep his head down and lay a jarring, but legal, hit on a ball carrier.
#2. In that remarkable 2012 season, Thomas led the nation in interceptions, with eight, and interceptions returned for a touchdown, with three. He also led the Mountain West Conference with four forced fumbles, earned consensus All-America honors and was the Defensive Player of the Year for the MWC. But even those accolades don't tell the whole tale. Fresno State's defense finished with just five total interceptions in 2011, the year Thomas missed with injury; Thomas matched that total himself through five games in 2012, then he picked off his sixth pass of the season in his sixth game.
#3. The poor guy has truly miserable luck with injuries. Not only did he suffer his Lisfranc injury in the preseason opener as a rookie for the Redskins, he also suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle just three days before the season opener in 2011, his first senior year.
In his second year as a pro, Thomas strained his hamstring during training camp and missed the preseason opener, then he sprained his left foot — the same foot in which he tore the Lisfranc ligament — in the third preseason game. That led the Redskins to waive him from the roster, only for them to re-sign him to the practice squad a day later. He missed the first eight games of the season, in part to recuperate from his injuries but also because he had not yet played enough to earn a spot on the active roster.
#4. In a 2012 SI.com profile, Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter lofted some hefty praise toward Thomas, likening his star safety to future Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu.
"This 3-4 defense that we run, we learned it from Dick LeBeau and the Steelers, and Phillip's our Troy Polamalu," DeRuyter said. "Where you've gotta have a guy who's gonna be a difference-maker, you can blitz him, you can have him in pass coverage, you can have him as a run-force player, he can play man coverage and he can disguise everything? That guy, for us, is Phillip."
#5. After years of misery and mediocrity at the safety position following the murder of Sean Taylor, the Redskins might actually have reason for optimism this year. Newcomers Jeron Johnson and Dashon Goldson are expected to start Week 1, but Duke Ihenacho has also received starter's reps this summer. The Skins drafted Kyshoen Jarrett, a local product, in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, and they also have DaMon Cromartie-Smith, Trenton Robinson and Akeem Davis all battling for one of the precious remaining roster spots.
Barring injuries, Goldson and Johnson are the only locks to make the 53-man roster. Ihenacho is expected to either start or hold down one of the backup spots, and Jarrett, by virtue of costing a 2015 draft pick, is perhaps the favorite for the fourth safety position. Last year, Washington kept four safeties on the active roster, though it wouldn't be a surprise if they kept five this year, especially with how poor the secondary was a year ago. Thomas has a fair chance of making the final 53, but he absolutely needs to stay healthy. Even a semi-serious injury could bring his brief Redskins career to an abrupt end, but a full, healthy season could very well be enough to get what was a promising career back on track.
Bottom Line: To have a successful 2015, Thomas needs something he's never really enjoyed as a pro football player: luck. While his potential is clear, coaches will soon tire of not having him available, and he will no longer be worth a spot on the roster, or even the practice squad, if he sustains another injury. It remains to be seen how much he has actually developed since his Fresno State days, thanks to limited on-field time with the coaching staff, though he did show flashes of NFL talent in his half-season of action. It's probably safe to assume he won't earn a starting job this year, but if he can contribute on special teams and play a full season, he should be able to guarantee himself a job somewhere next season, either in Washington or elsewhere.