Career Recap: Thomas has been an impact defender for the Cardinal since his freshman season. He started his career in 2009 as a defensive end and made eight starts at the position. The freshman had 36 tackles and four sacks.
Thomas was moved to outside linebacker in 2010 in Stanford's 3-4 defense, and that position was a better fit for him. He recorded 70 tackles with 7.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss. The sophomore worked really well with inside linebacker Shane Skov, and they were a dynamic tandem.
Thomas started 2011 on fire, collecting 3.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles for a loss and two forced in the first two games. Skov was lost to a season-ending injury early in the season, and as a result, Thomas received more blocking attention. He still had a real presence and was consistently pressuring the quarterback. Thomas recorded 52 tackles with 17.5 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles last year.
2012 Season Outlook:
Thomas decided to return to Stanford for his final season even though he could've been a second-day pick in the 2012 draft. One of his goals in returning to school was to add more strength. His latest weigh in has him at 245, a gain of about 5-10 pounds from his junior-year playing weight.
With two and half months remaining before the season, Thomas could get to 250 pounds. The added strength should help him to take on and shed blocks.
Skov is returning from his injury and that will help Thomas with a bolstered supporting cast. The intelligent and instinctive defender should be in store for a good senior season assuming he stays healthy.
If you're looking for a pro comparison, Thomas' game is similar to Chicago Bears rookie Shea McClellin and Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Thomas is a dangerous edge rusher who has a knack for producing sack-fumbles. He is quick off the snap with good athleticism to dodge linemen and get to the quarterback.
Thomas is good in space, too. He does well dropping into coverage and is a solid pass defender. Thomas flows to the ball well and is a good tackler in run defense. He needs to improve his ability to shed blocks. That is his biggest weakness right now.
Like McClellin and Matthews, Thomas is extremely instinctive. He is around the ball and has a knack for producing big plays. Thomas should go to a 3-4 defense in the NFL. He would probably be a Sam (strongside) linebacker in a 4-3 defense. Thomas would be a quality defender in a 4-3, but his pass-rushing in a 3-4 defense is his greatest strength. He also has the flexibility to play some inside linebacker in the 3-4.
Thomas has the frame to add weight. In the NFL, it would be ideal if he was playing in the 250-260 range.
2013 Draft Expectations:
Entering his senior season, Thomas is probably a second-round pick in large part because he is slightly undersized. However if Thomas has another good season and adds weight to hit 250, he could easily go in the second half of the first round, just like Matthews and McClellin.
I also think free safety is the big need, not necessarily strong safety. We can live another year with Devon Kindred and Ibraheim Campbell at strong safety. Maybe if we didn't have so many other more pressing needs I wouldn't mind addressing SS, but there are other priorities on this team.