For this episode of Scouting the Draft, we're going to look at a player I'm *really* irrationally high on. On my personal big-board, he's top 15 and flirting with top 10. To temper things, according to ESPN, Scouts Inc. et. al, he's a 3rd to 5th round selection. I'm talking about Stanford OLB Chase Thomas.
Before we get to the film, let's take a look at the measureables so we have an idea where he fits on the 'hawks defense. For each measurement, I'm going to give you 4 numbers. In order, those numbers are:
Height: 6'4 (6'4, 6'3, 6'0)
Weight: 250 (246, 254, 241)
Projected 40 time: 4.68 (4.75, 4.68, 4.46)
Arm Length: 31.2 (34.7 33. ???, 33.0) [sorry I couldn't find Clemons arm length anywhere]
I had a reason for giving you these numbers. The first is I wanted you to see that while Chase Thomas is slow for a linebacker, he's not prohibitively slow. In fact, he's faster than our current strong-side backer KJ Wright. Ultimately, speed isn't as important for an outside LB, because he doesn't have to go sideline to sideline the way the Mike does.
The second reason I wanted to show you these numbers is so you'd see that Chase Thomas is only 4 pounds lighter than Chris Clemons. I'm not (yet) trying to tell you that Thomas can play LEO. I'm only telling you what you already know. The LEO isn't a "prototypical" DE, and thus doesn't have to weigh in the 265-285 range that you'd expect from a more conventional defender.
Chase Thomas vs Notre Dame (2012) (via Adrian Ahufinger)
Chase Thomas vs UCLA (PAC 12 CG) (2012) (via Adrian Ahufinger)
Stanford D vs Oregon O 2012 (via JoshMTD)
USC O vs Stanford D 2012 (via JoshMTD)
You'll have to locate Thomas yourself on the Oregon and SC videos. He's #44, and most typically lines up as the strong-side OLB. However, he also sometimes lines up on the slot receiver, as a DE, or as any of the other three LB positions. As for where he fits with the 'Hawks, I see two possible landing places.
As A LEO
Unless Clemons steals stem cells from AP, his post-season ACL tear is going to cost him games next year. As much as I love Bruce Irvin coming off the edge on passing downs, the Atlanta game showed his isn't yet ready to play LEO full time. It would really behoove the 'hawks to find someone who can play LEO on first and 10 and second and 5.
If all you're looking at is the counting numbers, you'll see Chase Thomas had 7.5 sacks last season, whereas Jarvis Jones had 14.5 and Cornellius Carradine racked up 11. The difference is that Thomas (who is a "plus" option in pass coverage) spent a lot more time dropping back and playing zone than did his counterparts. I don't have efficiency numbers (sack per pass rush attempt), but if any readers do, I'd love to see how Thomas compares in this category. I'd bet my entire paycheck that Thomas out-performs NCAA sack leader Jarvis Jones in pass rushing efficiency.
The thing that really defines Chase Thomas as a pass rusher is the number of different ways he can beat his blocker. He doesn't have that explosive Bruce Irvin type speed, but is occasionally VERY fast off the snap and can beat blockers with a pure speed rush, which he occasionally combos into a rip move to turn the corner (18:44 against USC and 6:22 against Oregon). For example, in the Oregon play you will notice that Thomas is across the L.O.S. and into his second step before the tackle has made it out of his stance, or any of the other defenders have crossed the line.
The effectiveness of this speed-rush helps to set up a counter spin move to the inside (UCLA 2:34) that he also uses to disengage after a bull-rush. I'd have to say Thomas's best move is his club-swim. Thomas combines the club with a jerk from the swim hand, knocking the tackle off balance and keeping him from engaging with his own hands. Then Thomas swims his shoulders through while sliding his hips. It's a LOT of moving pieces (about 5 or six individual moves) that are skillfully stitched together into a single move. My personal favorite is 1:36 against ND, where the replay does a good job of showcasing all the moving parts, and how seamlessly they form a single move.
Thomas has a bull-rush, but he rarely uses it outside of twists where he's trying to occupy two defenders in order to allow someone else to have a free-run.
I don't think Chase Thomas is on the same level as Barkevious Mingo (whom I absolutely adore) but if you were to ask me who the #2 LEO in this year's draft class is, I could make a pretty good argument for either Thomas or Damontre Moore, and rank both players head and shoulders ahead of my #4 Werner.
As a WILL
As much as Chase Thomas at LEO makes me happy, I think he might be better suited to play WILL for Seattle. In pass coverage, people will tell you that Thomas is an "instinctive zone defender" which is complete bullshit. What he is, is really stinkin smart. Thomas understands what his role in coverage is, and knows (without turning around to look) what's going on behind him.
Take 1:23 against UCLA for example. Thomas is outside, lined up over the TE. His job is to cover the flat, while the safety #8 has the zone behind him. Thomas jams the TE at the line, and sees the play action fake. Thomas processes the route combination and sees nobody is coming into his zone of responsibility. He also realizes (without looking) that the safety was probably drawn forwards by the play fake, and the zone behind him is empty. So Thomas abandons his area of responsibility to play man with the TE and follow him into the endzone.
You can (and should) take issue with the fact that Thomas played the ball with the wrong arm, and that he committed an un-called penalty by grabbing the TE's helmet and pulling it backwards. But the fact that he was even in position to make these mistakes is a testament to how quickly he processes information on the field.
One issue that I have with Thomas in coverage is that he tries to physically engage anyone running through his zone. Sometimes the jam really disrupts timing and blows a play up. But far too often it's ineffective and the receiver moves through the contact. This will be a big problem in the NFL, where interior weapons like Darren Sproles and Wes Welker don't need very much separation.
I can talk all day about how Thomas plays the run. How good he is at "stack and shed" (UCLA 0:14). How he's disciplined, doesn't miss many tackles, etc. etc. But the only thing you really want to hear (and since it's accurate I'll say it) is that Thomas closely resembles KJ Wright against the run.
Both players are physical publishers at the point of attack. They've both got long arms and strong hands to keep blockers from engaging cleanly, allowing them to maneuver smoothly even through heavy traffic. Neither possesses elite speed, but both can make a play anywhere on their half the field. They also both have good "instincts" (a euphemism for intelligence), and know when to string the ball-carrier to the sideline, versus when to force him inside into the pursuit.
This has gone a lot longer than I intended it to already. But I felt I couldn't make a statement like 'Chase Thomas is top 15 on my Big Board' without giving a lot of evidence to support why I'm right and the entire rest of the internet is wrong.
Thomas can step in and be an immediate contributor at either the LEO or WILL position. One thing I didn't discuss is how much that will allow new D.C. Dan Quinn disguise his intentions pre-snap.
I don't think we're likely to draft Thomas in the first round, but that's only because (as things stand right now) it's highly likely that he'll be available to us in the second. But I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Schneider "reach" for Thomas in the second, particularly if at that point we'd still like to find players at the LEO and WILL position.