The New York Giants have needed to rebuild — or just plain build — their linebacking corps for a long time now.
Fans would love for the team to draft a linebacker highly or sign a big-name free agent. Or both. But the Giants also need to fill out their depth chart at the position. Not every player drafted is a starter, and even players down the depth chart can be important. They can help the team withstand injuries and make sure the special teams aren’t a liability.
NC State linebacker Drake Thomas isn’t a big name, and he probably won’t be selected highly. But does he have a role in the NFL?
Height: 5-foot 11 1⁄4 inches
Weight: 228 pounds
Arm length: 29 1/8 inches
Hand size: 9 3/8 inches
Games Played: 45
Tackles for a loss: 46.0
Passes defensed: 8
Games Played: 13
Tackles for a loss: 19.0
Passes defensed: 4
Best: Instincts, football IQ, competitive toughness, tackling
Worst: Height, length, agility
Projection: A reserve linebacker and core special teams player.
(Thomas is NC State linebacker number 32)
NC State’s Drake Thomas is an undersized but smart, instinctive, and competitive linebacker. Thomas is a capable blitzer who is quick off the line when lined up as an EDGE, and also does a good job of timing his rushes when he’s used as a blitzing linebacker from the second level.
Thomas primarily aligned as an outside linebacker, usually lining up on the strong side when offenses used 3x1 sets. He also spent time on the line of scrimmage as an edge defender, usually in passing situations.
Thomas has a very high football IQ and is an active communicator before then snap, pointing out aspects of the offensive play and helping to get his teammates lined up. He is also a very instinctive linebacker, who consistently makes an accurate first move at the start of the play. Thomas consistently anticipates the flow of the play and starts moving to the play-side before the ball is even in the ball carrier’s hands.
Combined with an explosive burst and short-area quickness, Thomas has impressive play speed when coming downhill. He is often able to beat blockers to spots and disrupt the play before it gets going.
Thomas appears comfortable playing in space. He hits his landmarks in zone coverage and shows a good understanding of offensive play design. As with his run defense, Thomas is quick to trigger downhill and gets to the play in a hurry when playing in space. He also has enough speed to run with most tight ends and running backs in man coverage.
He is a very good tackler in all areas of the field. Thomas practices good form, consistently squaring to his target, wrapping up, and driving through the ball carrier. He does a very good job of limiting yards after contact while also delivering hard hits.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much Thomas can do about his biggest weaknesses. He is short for an NFL linebacker at 5-foot-11 with 29-inch arms. His lack of height makes him a denser linebacker than his 228 pounds would suggest, but his overall lack of length and mass show up when he needs to take on blockers directly.
He is able to beat tight ends and some linemen with quickness and his natural leverage. However, he has a tendency to get “stuck” on blocks and be unable to shed larger blockers. Thomas also shows some lower-body stiffness which can hold him back when he needs to change directly quickly in close quarters. Most notably, ball carriers can get past him if he isn’t able to keep the play in front of him.
Overall Grade: 6.9
Drake Thomas likely projects as a reserve outside linebacker and special teams player to start his career.
Thomas is undersized and lacks elite athletic traits, but he’s a player coaches will likely fall in love with. In short, he’s the type of prospect who is best described as a “football player”.
He was constantly involved with the play, but there were also instances where his physical limitations were apparent. But there were far more instances where his instincts, football IQ, and competitive toughness allowed him to make plays he might have missed because he wasn’t quite long, agile, or fast enough.
Thomas’ limitations will likely be exposed at the NFL level, where players are bigger, faster, and just better than they were at the collegiate level. However, it’s also easy to see him raising eyebrows in training camp and if he does get the chance to play defense in a game. At the very least, Thomas is the type of player to carve out a 10-year career as a special teams ace who can be defensive depth about whom you aren’t nervous.