The two primary needs for the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into the 2018 NFL draft were at safety and linebacker. The Steelers picked up two hybrid safeties with in-the-box experience, but never got their linebacker. However, despite not drafting one, the Steelers may have found a gem in rookie free agent Matthew Thomas from Florida State. The highly talented linebacker had a checkered career with the Seminoles causing him to go undrafted. The Steelers, however, thought enough of Thomas to bring him in for a pre-draft visit. Evidently, they were satisfied enough with his interview that they quickly signed him following the draft. Thomas was disappointed he wasn’t drafted. All Thomas wanted was an opportunity to show his troubles were behind him. The Pittsburgh Steelers are giving Thomas his chance.
Matthew Thomas is Ready to Prove He Belongs With The Pittsburgh Steelers
Thomas has the size, speed, and athletic ability to be an NFL linebacker. So how does a player with such impressive intangibles go undrafted? Because of a shoulder injury, a suspension, and academic ineligibility. These issues limited Thomas to just 10 games from 2013-2015. During his final two seasons, Thomas racked up 162 tackles, including 22 tackles for loss, three sacks, and an interception. He showed flashes of what made him one of the nations top recruits. Those flashes an intriguing athletic ability were enough for the Steelers to sign Matthews as a priority free agent.
Thomas signed a three-year contract with the Steelers for $1.72 million, including a $10,000 signing bonus. That is a great price for someone who believes he’s as talented as the top inside linebackers coming out of college this year. Thomas is surprised he wasn’t drafted. “I was very surprised I wasn’t drafted, but that’s life,” Thomas said. “I know I’m a lot better than a lot of guys taken in the draft,” he said. “I’ll put it on film and let it be shown.” Thomas has the confidence and talent needed to find his way to the 53 man roster. The Steelers have room for him behind Jonathan Bostic and Vince Williams, but Thomas has to eliminate the mental mistakes.
The Pros and Cons of Matthew Thomas
The Steelers brought in Thomas for a pre-draft visit because of his untapped potential and athletic ability. They appreciated his honesty regarding his troubles at Florida State and were duly impressed by Thomas’s combine workout in February. Thomas looks like a top draft pick when working in space, freelancing, or tracking down a play from the backside. His talent and speed absolutely stand out. He shows sideline to sideline range along with excellent lateral movement and closing speed in these situations.
Apparently, Mike Tomlin sees an opportunity for Thomas and has an undisclosed plan for him as well. “He said, ‘Man, I have a plan for you. You just have to follow it,'” Thomas said. But he added that Tomlin hasn’t explained that plan. Thomas must avoid the pitfalls of mental mistakes if he is to carry out Tomlin’s plan for him. As good as Thomas looks defending in space, he looks equally unsure of himself when coming up and attacking gaps. He has trouble shedding blocks, and when he does, he looks unsure of how to attack the gap. Ultimately Thomas’s mental lapses are his to fix, but his inefficiencies in attacking gaps and shedding blocks can be coached out of him.
Last Word on Matthew Thomas
Matthew Thomas has the chance to be a great pickup for the Steelers if they can harness his potential. His athletic ability and speed would be a great addition to the defense, and his combine results are almost identical to Ryan Shazier. The challenge for Keith Butler and Jerry Olsavsky will be getting Thomas to focus in a similar fashion. Thomas has a chance to displace L.J. Fort, who has lost the confidence of the coaching staff and have an impact on special teams. The Steelers are moving in the direction of hybrid safeties playing linebacker in sub-package defenses 70 percent of the time. However, they still need fast and athletic linebackers like Thomas. If Thomas can fulfill Tomlin’s plan for him, he has the chance to have a positive impact on the defense in 2018 and beyond.
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