Southern Miss defensive tackle Khyri Thornton is hoping to follow a similar path as his former teammate, Jamie Collins did last year. From a pure production standpoint, Thornton was more effective as a sophomore and junior and he did not really stand out in his senior year. Nevertheless, his ability to shoot gaps and win with quickness allowed him to make some big time splash plays.
For the NFL, Thornton is a triangle numbers prospect that has some genuine NFL tools, but needs to develop some key areas to give him an obvious place on a roster at the next level. He has size, quickness and heavy hands, but he struggles with pad level, shedding blocks and finishing plays effectively. Thornton looks like a late round pick that could end up as an undrafted free agent that will get a shot to make a team in training camp.
Vitals & Build
Thornton measured 6’3” 304lbs at the scouting combine with 32 ½” arms. He has a strong upper body and does not carry much excess weight on his frame. Thornton shows good burst and overall athletic ability when not forced to open his hips. His motor is decent but his overall stamina is not great. He has some room to improve in terms of his functional strength, but his potential is intriguing between his ability to keep adding strength to his lower body and just taking advantage of all of his physical tools.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
Thornton gets off of the ball pretty well in terms of timing. He is able to get a solid jump on the snap and get a quick advantage on the opponent.
In terms of his first step, Thornton displays a quick first step and is able to dictate the action at the snap. The problem is that his pad level is inconsistent at the jump and the majority of the time, he stands too tall and immediately gives his chest up to the opponent.
When he stays low, he can really be effective in terms of deciding how the play is going to go. The times is too high, he has to win with his quickness and upper body strength too much of the time, limiting his options and making him have to work harder than he should, which takes a toll on his stamina.
When Thornton finds himself engaged with a blocker, he tends to go with one of two ways to try to get free. He either just tries to overpower them and throw them out of the way or he tries to push pull. There are certainly examples where it proves effective for Thornton, but it tends to be difficult to work against offensive linemen that have comparable strength to him.
When Thornton is unable to win with quickness and slip through and get into the gap or get half of the man, he tends to struggle. Part of this is due to the fact that he does tend to drift up too tall and he ends up trying to win with just his arms. He has heavy hands and can land a nice jolt, but opponents who are stout enough to withstand it tend to shut him down pretty easily.
Thornton needs to get better with his pad level to maximize his leverage and functional power, but he also needs to add more in terms of moves and ways to win up front. If unable, he will have a difficult time making a lasting impact in the NFL because his ability to shoot gaps, while effective, will only carry him so far.
Thornton has the ability to anchor but that is not really who he is. When his pad level is down and he has leverage, he can hold up and do a decent job of holding up against blocks.
Thornton is far more comfortable trying to dictate to teams where they can go by finding a gap, trying to shoot through it and disrupt the play in the backfield. His first step and allows him to get to a seam in the protection quickly and find an opportunity to get in on the play before it starts.
When he is right and gets through, Thornton stops the play before it starts, making an impact tackle for loss. Wrong, he will take himself out of the play and can give the opponent a wide open running lane.
In the Southern Miss scheme, there were times when Thornton was lined up as a zero or one technique and while he might fire his hands out and try to get a punch and get some quick pressure on the opponent, he is still looking to get the quick penetration.
Going forward, Thornton is explosive and shows some impressive burst. Forced to go laterally, Thornton is far more ordinary in his ability to chase down or press downhill to try to eliminate running lanes.
Especially when he gets tired, but as a result of inconsistent pad level, Thornton can get driven off of the ball. If he cannot get the quick pressure and he stands straight up, he is far more akin to being a blocking sled than a stout defensive lineman.
Thornton has some ability to be a solid run defender, but his pad level is inconsistent and he is more suited to play farther away from the center.
Thornton does have some ability as a pass rusher, but a number of issues show up that cause him to fall short. Because of his quickness and ability to shoot gaps, he has the ability to get into the backfield and pressure the quarterback quickly. That enables him to get a quick advantage and cause issues for the opponent or help teammates make the play.
In obvious passing situations, opponents are expecting his quickness and are able to counter it. When he gives up his chest too quickly, he makes it so opponents have a target to hit, control and take him out of the play. Because he has trouble shedding blocks or doing it fast enough, if opponents can get in front of him, he tends to be taken out of the play.
The times Thornton is able to get into the backfield, he tends to run out of gas quickly, has trouble adjusting to quickness because he is too high, and he tends to dive at the opponent’s feet as soon as he thinks he is close enough.
Thornton shows ability to get in position to put pressure on the quarterback, but he has to clean up bad habits and be more effective when it comes to finishing them.
Thornton’s best fit is in a 4-3 scheme as a 3-technique defensive tackle who can help inside as a nose in a pinch. He really does not buy into being a nose in terms of what he being a clogging defensive lineman. Thornton is far more inclined to try to win off the snap and win with quickness.
If he can get better at being consistent playing low and finishing with speed, he can develop into a nice depth player or potentially a starter. Right now, Thornton looks like he will need to be a fifth or sixth defensive tackle. He might have to make a practice squad this year.
Thornton has some similarities to C.J. Wilson, currently of the Oakland Raiders. Wilson was drafted out of East Carolina by the Green Bay Packers in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft because, like Thornton, he had some intriguing physical traits that could be developed. Wilson has been able to able to stay in the league but has not really flourished to this point. Nevertheless, Thornton may have to follow a similar path in hopes of developing into a productive NFL player.
Khyri Thornton has some tools that could allow him to be a productive NFL player. He looks the part, has the strength and quickness to do the job, but at this point, the sum of his part does not add up to a defined position in the NFL. Thornton can be a quick penetrator and has some ability off of the ball but inconsistent pad level and trouble with shedding blocks make it difficult for him to flourish even at the collegiate level. The best situation for Thornton is to be a depth player and someone a team believes can become a complete player with time. As a result, Thornton looks like he will be a late round pick and potential undrafted free agent that will get a shot to prove himself in an NFL training camp.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com