Every college football season players are often viewed in a drastically different light by the media than they are by me and NFL scouts. So throughout the 2012 college football season I am taking a look at one player each week that is either over-rated or under-rated based on my film study and what I am hearing from NFL scouts. This week I focus on Tennessee offensive tackle Dallas Thomas who has consistently played at a high level throughout his three years as Tennessee’s starting left tackle.
Viewed by many in the media as a likely late round pick, Thomas’ play has made us confident he will be drafted in the second or third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Over the last decade the pass first trend in the NFL has led to offensive linemen pass blocking more upright and without good base/leverage. This is where Thomas separates himself. He has excellent hip, knee and ankle flexibility, which allows him to sink hips and block with excellent base. Pass blocking with good base makes it easy for Thomas to re-direct and slide quickly side to side to adjust to fast change of direction pass rush moves. Thomas can easily drive defensive linemen down the LOS (Line of Scrimmage) to open hole for ball carrier on in-line run blocks because he consistently blocks with good leverage.
One of the lost traits amongst today’s offensive linemen is the hard, violent punch and few linemen coming out of college use one. Thomas is a nice exception as he has “heavy hands,” can snap pass rusher upright with violent punch and keeps man pinned on the LOS. His ability to pass block with great base and use hands aggressively to punch lets him play stronger at the POA (Point of Attack) vs. “bull” rushers than expected for a lineman weighing less than 300 pounds. Even when Thomas does not physically dominate man, his ability to “get a good fit” allows him to control and seal man out of the play consistently, both on in-line run blocks and in pass protection. While Thomas is an outstanding “puncher” there are times when he grabs outside man’s shoulders and can be jolted and driven backwards when he gets lazy with punch.
Even if an offensive tackle blocks with good base and is aggressive with hands, if they do not have good foot quickness and “snap reaction” they are not able to slide out to protect the corner from explosive, edge rushers consistently. Thomas has consistently shown the ability to slide out of stance with good base and quickness, which lets him get to the “turn point” easily and in good position to make block. Once he gets to the “turn point,” he can usually stop rusher by delivering a hard punch and “getting a good fit” on him. However, Thomas does have a bad habit that must be improved if he is going to become a quality starting offensive tackle. He tends to “stop his shuffle” too soon and ends up “crossing over and chasing,” which leads to him giving up the corner to edge rusher and basically chasing pass rusher around the corner. When he stays in and maintains his shuffle longer he is an excellent edge pass protector.
While no one is ever going to confuse Thomas with a premier athlete when you see him pull or step through to the second level to block in space, he has proven to me that he is a good enough athlete to be effective blocking in space at the next level. He can step through to the second level quickly, makes good initial contact with defender and because of his ability to block with base he is able to stay on and maintain block well to eliminate man from the play. He is effective pulling and blocking defender who is on his track and can tie man up and eliminate him easily. Adjusting to block a defender off his track is difficult and Thomas struggles in this area.
Overall, Thomas may not be viewed as premier prospect by many, but in our view there is no doubt he will be chosen on the second day of the draft and could even work his way into the first round if he maintains his level of production and does well at the Senior Bowl and Combine. While he has not received the same amount of hype as Bryan Bulaga of the Green Bay Packers did when he came out of Iowa, there are some real similarities to their styles of play and Thomas has the tools to be as productive a starter as Bulaga has been.
Email Russ at Russelllande@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @RUSSLANDE