The New York Giants have been looking for athletic, play-making linebackers for, well, about 20 years. The Giants signed free agent J.T. Thomas III in the offseason in the hopes the could be one. Let's look closer at Thomas as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp.
2014 Season in Review
The 2014 season was a breakout one of sorts for Thomas. In his fourth season after being a 2011 sixth-round pick by the Chicago Bears, Thomas received significant defensive playing time for the first time in his career. He started 10 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars, bringing his career total to 12 starts. Thomas played both the weak side and middle linebacker spots for the Jaguars, and finished the season with 85 tackles, two interceptions, five passes defensed and two forced fumbles. He had an excellent game against the Giants, with six tackles, four stops and a quarterback hurry. He also scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery.
Pro Football Focus did not like Thoams's work, grading him at -14.8 for the season, including -11.9 vs. the run.
2015 Season Outlook
Thomas parlayed his season in Jacksonville, and his big game against the Giants, into a three-year, $12 million contract with the linebacker-needy Giants, $4.5 million of which is guaranteed. Many have criticized the signing, but not Herm Edwards.
The Giants signed Thomas and veteran Jonathan Casillas as free agents in the offseason, and both are primarily weak-side linebackers. The 26-year-old Thomas would seem to be the likely starter at the spot. Thomas also provides the Giants some insurance in the middle, where he played seven games for the Jaguars in 2014.
"He is very athletic. That is what I like about him. He will be a great addition to our teams. Special teams and athletically as a linebacker he can cover. He is tough. He is going to fill that role, both in base and in sub. We can do a lot of different things with him," said linebacker coach Jim Herrmann. "In our base, he is an outside linebacker and in sub, we play him some in the middle. It is a very fluid deal in sub defense, so he can play in or out."
Chris did a full film breakdown of Thomas after the signing. Here are a couple of the GIFs he used:
Thomas is, basically, the replacement for Jacquian Williams, a player whose production never really matched his athletic gifts.
"I'm not so much worried about how guys view me," Thomas said during minicamp. "It's truly about getting better every day."
Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley was very complementary of Thomas after he signed with the Giants, saying he "can't say enough good things about J.T." One thing he could not say is that Thomas would have started for the Jags.
"What his role would be for us, with a guy like Puz [Paul Posluszny] coming back, it would be more a role where he was a backup," Bradley said. "He saw himself more as a starter."
Thomas will almost certainly be a starter for the Giants, and figures to be part of the sub package when the Giants go to two linebackers and an extra defensive back.
"It's really not about proving to anyone. It's always been about getting better every single day. Nothing helps you grow like experience. Fortunately I had the chance to play some ball in Jacksonville and had the opportunity to get better and better every week," Thomas said.
"To me I feel like that may have been the tip of the iceberg and the Giants see what the Jaguars didn't."
Considering the way they paid Thomas, the Giants are apparently counting on that.