Friday, April 04, 2008

Solving Our Problems: Devin Thomas

[With Free Agency all but over, it's time to take a look at who the Vikings might select in the first round with the #17 pick. Today, we're previewing Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt. Previously, I previewed Derrick Harvey, a defensive end from Florida, Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt, Malcolm Kelly, a wide receiver from Oklahoma, Phillip Merling, a defensive end from Clemson, Ryan Clady, an offensive tackle from Boise St, Jeff Otah, an offensive tackle from Pitt and Limas Sweed, a wide receiver from Texas.]

Devin Thomas is one of the more interesting prospects available in this year's draft. He's a 6'2, 215 pound wide receiver and kick returner from Michigan State whom no one outside of East Lansing had heard of prior to this season. That's not all surprising, considering that he only had 6 catches for 90 yards in his first season with the Spartans. When Michigan State fired John L. Smith and replaced him with Mark Dantanio for Thomas' junior season though, something clicked for the receiver.

One year wonders are not a good bet in the NFL draft (and neither are first round wide receivers). That being said, its still hard not to give Thomas a long look because of his senior season. It was that good. Thomas set a school record with 79 receptions, seven 100 yard receiving games and 2590 all purpose yards (2nd all time in the Big Ten), set a Big Ten record with 1135 return yards, and had 8 touchdowns and 1260 yards receiving. He also carried the ball 27 times for 177 yards. It wasn't a good year, it was a great one. And Thomas seems to have the skills needed for the NFL. He ran the sixth fastest forty by a receiver at the Combine (4.40 seconds) and uses that speed on the field, as demonstrated by his 21 catches for more than 20 yards and his two runs for more than 20 yards. Thomas has good hands as well, and isn't afraid to go over the middle or take a hit to make the catch. And he is a legitimate returner who knows how to read his blocks and follow the wedge, skills that he also uses to gain yards after the catch.

Like you'd expect from a one year wonder, Thomas is raw. While he gets into and out of his breaks quickly, he doesn't run his routes that well, and doesn't have the precision that is needed in the NFL. He also has a tendency to try and do too much with the ball by dancing rather than heading up field. His blocking is good, but not great, and he has trouble blocking safeties and linebackers that are his size or bigger.

While he's raw, the questions about Thomas mainly focus on his lack of production in college. He was so good his junior year that one has to wonder why he didn't do anything his sophomore year. A change in coaches and offense helps to explain it, but it doesn't explain it all. Was it because he had trouble adjusting to Big Ten talent after playing a year of JuCo football? Was it an attitude problem? He got into ten games as a sophomore, but he didn't make an impact at all, and that's very troubling. Before drafting him, a team has to figure out what changed for Thomas between his sophomore and junior year and whether its effects will last only one year as well as all the other questions that have to be figured out before drafting a player. It's not a good thing to have to worry about, especially for the Vikings, who have enough needs in other places that they can try and pick up a player with similar upside at a different position.

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