Clemson left tackle Brandon Thomas has played in 49 games at both tackle and guard; 36 as a starter. Thomas was the blind side protector for the potent Tiger offenses of the past two years, helping this senior class go out with a victory in the Orange Bowl.
For the NFL, Thomas has a great deal of athleticism and strength with the length and ballast to play tackle. He is a good positional blocker in the running game, but his power does not show up much on tape. There is a good amount of potential in his ability to pass block, but he just needs to be more consistent. He has the capability to play tackle but might be better suited to play guard. As a result, Thomas warrants a third day pick but could go earlier because of his athleticism.
Vitals & Build
Thomas measured 6’3” 317lbs at the scouting combine with 34 ¾” arms. He looks impressive and displays substantial strength, especially in his upper body. Thomas does not carry much excess weight around his midsection. Does not have ideal height to be a tackle but his arm length makes up for it and he is able to function in that role. Thomas does still appear to have a little upside but he may largely be what he is going to be when it comes to the NFL.
Thomas moves extremely well and is light on his feet. He has a good amount of speed, good body control and great feet. Thomas has shown he can easily get to the second level, kick out and pull if needed and is able to get out and protect the edge without issue. And it never seems to really tax Thomas in his ability to block in any of these areas.
Thomas operates as a run blocker by getting good angles, putting himself between the ball carrier and the defender and getting the right position. He has the ability to throw a decent punch and get opponents off guard, but he does not show much of a killer instinct; he is not a finisher. Thomas is satisfied to get in the way of the opponent but is content to win as opposed to dominate. As strong as he is, it does not show up on tape like someone would hope.
He has the ability to get to the second level either by going straight ahead or by making an initial block and then going up and getting a linebacker. Thomas does a good job of breaking down in space and does not overrun many opportunities to land those blocks, so while he is not someone who gets many knock down blocks, when it comes to the second level, he lands the block.
The Clemson scheme had him step down inside immediately and work from the up field shoulder, allowing him to cut off the defender from the play right away. He has the athleticism to smoothly make that move, but it does tend to make a number of his blocking assignments easier than they otherwise might be.
Athletically, Thomas has a great deal teams will like. He is able to do the job, but the question remains why he does not play meaner and look to impose his will more. The potential for him is to get better, especially if he really employs his strength, but it raises questions as to why he is not already.
Thomas is great in terms of his ability to slide and stay in front of opponents. As a result, he always seems to be in position to make blocks and would seem to be able to handle the blind side.
Thomas does a pretty good job of anchoring and absorbing power, but occasionally he will get caught by surprise. While he does not flash a ton of power to dominate opponents, he has it when he needs to deflect an opponent.
The problem for Thomas is that despite the fact that he gets in front of opponents, he tends to get beaten quite a bit. He is able to kick slide and get out in space effectively, but he has had problems stepping back in when opponents go inside of him and he struggles to recover.
Thomas will punch and knock opponents back but it actually has helped opponents in certain situations, because Thomas is unable to latch on and shut the opponent’s momentum down. In these situations, it can actually do him more harm than good because he is giving them a second life to rush the passer.
The other issue that can be curious is Thomas’s judgment on who he should block at times. There are situations where he seems to misread what his left guard is able to handle, will block down on his man and end up doubling him when it was not needed. The result is that an outside rusher goes untouched because Thomas misread the play and they overprotected on one man, allowing another to have a free run at the quarterback.
Lastly, there are times when Thomas gets extremely deep into the pocket and if not for Tajh Boyd’s mobility, he would probably have given up more sacks than his numbers would suggest. Boyd’s mobility and ability to evacuate the pocket at times made bad plays look less problematic than they actually were.
Having said all of that, Thomas has the tools to be a good pass protector. He has the range necessary to play tackle and survive in space. Thomas needs more time and reps to really get the position down, but the attributes are there for him. He might be better suited to play guard where he would not have to cover as much ground and would really excel blocking in a phone booth.
For the most part, Thomas employs pretty good angles and is able to cut off opponents effectively. The biggest issue he needs to address is maximizing his punch and being able to latch on and get control of opponents more effectively in pass protection. If he can do that, he can eliminate second efforts and stone opponents before they get started.
Thomas has great feet and does a good job of making his steps count in the running game. He also is able to slide effectively in pass protection. Thomas needs to get better at making a power step and cutting opponents off more effectively when they try to attack inside of him.
He has the feet to do just about anything a team needs him to have to do the job. Thomas just needs to do it.
Physically, Thomas can play in both a gap or zone scheme, but his temperament and lack of power in his game suggest he should be kept in a zone scheme. He has the capability to play tackle but may have to start his career as a guard and prove himself to kick outside.
Reducing the amount of ground he has to cover would probably allow him to be more effective, but if he can continue to develop and get more comfortable, he can move outside and be an effective tackle. Thomas could start as a rookie inside but he might end up being a backup at several different spots on the line.
Thomas has some similarities to Willie Colon, currently of the New York Jets. Colon is short like Thomas but has played tackle in his career since being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Colon has also been able to contribute as a guard as well, much like Thomas could.
Thomas has a great deal of athleticism and potential going into the NFL. While he might be able to play tackle, he could start his career as a guard with the potential to come in and start. He is an effective positional blocker that could get substantially better if he uses the power he has. His pass blocking needs refining, but he is able to keep opponents in front of him effectively. Although his athleticism could have a team take him higher, Thomas looks suited to go on day three of the draft.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com