I remember a much simpler time – some two months ago – when the only name linked to the Browns in the first round of the coming draft was Florida’s Joe Haden. The rationale was so easy – the Browns lacked corners and Haden was the best prospect in his class. But then Haden had to run .02 seconds slower than was desired by draft experts, which all but eliminated him from first-round contention.
Funny how these things work.
However, these were ideal visions far removed from today’s inane tales regarding Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen, or even hints of Dez Bryant and Jared Odrick, or the myth of the Browns catching a falling Eric Berry. In fact, nearly every big name prospect has been linked to the Browns at Number Seven; yet today we’re no closer to realizing who the next potential cornerstone will be than we were back in the halycon pre-Combine days.
Now the long list of NFL prospects rumored to be Berea-bound has a new entry in Texas safety Earl Thomas.
And it all seems so familiar.
Of course, the Browns have company in desiring Thomas – allegedly. Thomas’ name has been linked to the Ravens, Dolphins, Texans, Falcons and Steelers in past weeks, and will likely be attached to several more before the actual draft occurs. After all this time of year is ripe for speculation and posturing – which would explain Thomas’ inexplicable rise into the top ten, despite a recent lackluster, injury-induced Pro Day workout.
But, it’s the draft – so I’ll play along.
If Thomas is a true target for the Browns – either at Number Seven or later in the round – what exactly would be getting?
Besides a trip back in time?
A few days ago, I threw out the name Michael Huff as a quick, cheap comparison to Thomas. Huff, if you’ll remember, was a top-ten pick of the Raiders several years ago and was hyped as the next elite safety to enter the league. Some years later, Huff’s career has rivaled that of Brodney Pool – minus the concussions, but featuring the same type of teasing athleticism and empty production.
All this begs the question – is Thomas any different?
National Football Post’s Wes Bunting offers the following:
National Football Post – Earl Thomas
When looking at Thomas, the first thing that jumps out at me on tape is his ability to find the football quickly in the pass game, redirect cleanly out of his breaks and range sideline to sideline in order to track throws. He does a great job breaking on passes and ball-hawking on all levels of the field and looks comfortable when asked to line up over the slot and make plays in space as a corner.
However, I have a pair of major concerns that would keep me from drafting him in the first round.
The first is that he played in the Big 12, a pass-only conference really, which I not only think inflated his stats and ability to make plays on the ball in the pass game but also made him look like a much more instinctive player than he is. What I mean is that he was rarely asked to read run/pass keys in the secondary since the majority of plays were already predetermined passes. So when thrown into a situation where he’s asked to read run/pass keys instead of ball-hawking against the pass, such as Alabama, Thomas was nowhere near as effective making plays on the football – finishing the game without any passes defended — and at times looked slow to put himself in position vs. the run.
The second concern I have is his overall tackling ability. To his credit, he’s a willing tackler, which makes me think there’s some room for improvement. However, he doesn’t generate much power on contact when asked to break down, he isn’t a consistent wrap-up guy and will overrun ball carriers in pursuit. He does showcase good range when asked to close and has the instincts to fill a lane when attacking downhill. However, at this stage he looks like a below-average tackler when projecting him to the next level.
Or, here’s the condensed version of Bunting’s analysis, complete with a symbolism chart.
1. “Ball-hawking” is not always a desirable trait in a young player. If fact, “ball-hawking” can quickly deteriorate into “gambling”, which can symbolize “getting beaten deep.” Considering the Browns’ current secondary issues, the last thing we need is another player getting lost on the field and beaten over the top. Does anyone else remember the first Steeler game last year? Or, how about the ones against the Packers and Lions?
2. Readers of this site already know of my disdain for Big-12 players. And really, when was the last time a top-flight safety came out of the Big-12? Roy Williams?
3. “He was rarely asked to read run/pass keys” can easily be construed as “he can’t read offenses.” Much like say a Colt McCoy being instructed by the coaching staff exactly where to throw the ball – so it goes with Thomas. Talk about a learning curve that we can’t afford – especially from a first round pick.
4. “Doesn’t generate much power”, “isn’t a consistent wrap-up guy” and “overruns ball carriers in pursuit” probably does not translate well to the NFL. Or, how about this for another comparison – why don’t we just move Brandon McDonald to free safety? How different would the skill set be? Or even the size?
Perhaps I’m being a little unfair to Thomas. So, before breaking out the inevitable Earl Little comparison – and conjuring up all the old ghosts that are best left sleeping – let me just say this:
Maybe we should just stick to cornerbacks.
Here’s an idea – how about Thomas?