The Cleveland Browns have made plenty of improvements to their defense this off-season, particularly on the defensive line. Pass-rusher Olivier Vernon was acquired through trade, and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson was signed as a free agent. The Browns now have one of the best starting defensive lines in the entire NFL, but they lack depth there in a severe way. Despite playing just 22 snaps in four games and not recording a single statistic, 2018 third-round pick Chad Thomas must play a vital role this year.
Film Room: Analyzing What Chad Thomas Can Contribute to the Cleveland Browns
In the 2018 NFL Draft, Cleveland owned three picks in the second round, including two of the first three. They chose offensive lineman Austin Corbett and running back Nick Chubb with those selections, and traded down with the Indianapolis Colts with the third. The Browns then chose Thomas with the third pick of the third round, hoping he would realize his immense potential in the NFL.
Thomas had a disappointing career in college, as he logged just 10 sacks and 26 tackles for loss over his four seasons, three as a full-time starter. But the Browns didn’t draft him for his production; they drafted him for his traits.
Thomas certainly looks the part of a menacing pass-rusher. He stands 6’5″, 281 pounds and has a chiseled frame with huge arms. His athletic testing wasn’t anything special, but his tape shows a surprisingly nimble player for his size with a truly elite burst off the line. With all the draft picks at his disposal, general manager John Dorsey felt comfortable taking the risk on a player with Thomas’ physical profile.
A sports hernia limited Thomas early in camp, but he was healthy for the majority of the season even though he was active for just four games. He didn’t earn himself any playing time, even on a team that was extremely thin on the defensive line. Reports were that Thomas had moved inside to defensive tackle full-time. But without any on-field tape, that can’t be verified.
So will Thomas have a role on this team in 2019? He has to, if he even makes the team. Just because he was a high draft pick last year shouldn’t guarantee him a roster spot. He needs to earn it, and that means making much more on an impact than he did in 2018.
Behind Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon, the Browns have Chris Smith and Anthony Zettel. Smith actually played decently toward the end of the season, but Zettel’s impact was nothing like his 2017 season with the Detroit Lions.
Garrett and Vernon cannot play the entire game. Garrett played too many snaps last season and was visibly gassed at the end of games. Cleveland needs Thomas to step up and be able to give the starters a breather while providing his own pass rush.
Thomas is absolutely capable of doing that. His flashes are fantastic, but they are only about 10 percent of his total snaps. If he can consistently play as he did for those 10 percent, he will be starting over Vernon; his peaks are that good. But defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi have their work cut out for them because Thomas needs a ton of development.
Here are the main takeaways from these upcoming clips:
- Thomas is a pure EDGE. He should never play inside, ever. He isn’t strong enough and his pad level is awful, causing him to get manhandled constantly.
2. Thomas is a fantastic athlete, and his first step is amazing.
3. Thomas’s hand usage is practically non-existent. This is where he needs the most work.
In this play, Thomas (#9) is lined up at the bottom of the line, against the right tackle. He performs the stunt well and uses his athleticism to get into the ball-carrier’s running lane and forces him to cut back right into the waiting arms of #91.
Here, Thomas has moved inside to defensive tackle, with a stand-up rusher on his outside. He immediately gets blown up and driven 20 yards downfield. This is exactly what you don’t want from your defensive tackles. Yes, Thomas is double-teamed, but if you’re going to play this position in the NFL, you have to have an anchor strong enough to avoid getting moved more than a few yards, even if you aren’t pushing the pocket or splitting the double-team.
On this play Thomas is able to swipe the right tackle’s hands away and give himself a free run at the running back. He hesitates just a bit, which allows the running back to get back to the line of scrimmage, but that’s alright, because if Thomas just dove for the tackle, the running back could have easily sidestepped him and gotten to the edge for a big gain.
Here Thomas again lines up inside, but he’s standing up, which is an alignment you don’t often see in the NFL. Most of the lineman create pressure on this play but the quarterback is able to step up and deliver the throw. Thomas gives an outside fake and then uses his speed to get around the guard. Even though he didn’t get a hand on the quarterback, this is still a good rep for Thomas.
This is one of Thomas’s best plays. He shows great burst off the snap, gets his right arm in the right tackle’s chest and swipes with his left, keeping his speed as he bends around the corner for the sack.
This is about as perfect of a stunt as you’re going to ever see. Thomas gives a jab-step and then quickly turns outside and is already headed for the quarterback before the right tackle is able to react to what just happened. 280 pounds isn’t supposed to move this fast.
Another stunt, except this time Thomas is tasked with drawing the attention of both the tackle and guard, which he does. He gets a very good push and may have had a sack if the quarterback hadn’t gotten rid of the ball so quickly.
Another great play in run defense, Thomas isn’t blocked because of the scheme, but this is still a difficult play to make because you always have to be careful of the play action. If you commit too hard to the back, the quarterback fakes the handoff and bootlegs out the other way, where he now has plenty of room to operate. Even after confirming the play is a run, the defensive end must still be explosive enough to pursue the running back and make the tackle behind the line of scrimmage. Not many players can do this, especially at his size.
Chad Thomas is a special athlete, and he truly does have Pro Bowl talent. The question is whether he is dedicated enough to football to unlock it. He is already a successful music producer, and that career is much more long-term than football. There’s nothing wrong with players having other interests outside of the sport, but when football starts to become a secondary passion, that’s when worry sets in.
Thomas is now fully healthy and will be a player to monitor closely during training camp. His preseason performance will be crucial, because if he fails to make an impact and undrafted free agent Wyatt Ray is playing well, it may be time to give up on the Chad Thomas experiment.
It’s anyone’s guess if Thomas ends up reaching his ceiling, but if he does, the Browns would have three elite pass rushers anchoring their defense. For now, we wait and hope that the coaches do what they’re paid to do.