The first day -- the opening hour, really -- of free agency was pure insanity. Blockbuster trades, blockbuster deals, record contracts ... Twitter was blowing up.
But while the cap-rich teams were making headlines, the New York Giants were spending their more limited cap space on apparent back-ups. One of those, and one of their bigger signings, was linebacker J.T. Thomas III.
Thomas came into the league in 2012 with the Chicago Bears, and spent the last two years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was mostly an outside linebacker and core special teamer for the Jags, but took over the starting middle linebacker job when Paul Posluszny went down with a torn pectoral muscle during the 2014 season. He responded with a very strong season, recording 84 tackles, two forced fumbles, and two interceptions in 10 games started.
His Pro Football Focus score is unimpressive to say the least, and Grantland lists Thomas as one of the worst free-agent signings -- so far-- this year.
On the flip side, Herm Edwards is a fan:
So, what are the Giants getting for their three-year, $12 million ($4.5 million guaranteed) investment?
- Rangy, athletic linebacker
- Fast, with good movement skills and short-area quickness
- Good size at 6-foot-1, 240
- Plays well with his eyes in the backfield, and reads plays well
- Plays with great energy and shows leadership
- Can get hung up on blocks
- Occasionally bites hard on play fakes
- Was still growing into his role, what is his ceiling?
Does He Fit With The Giants?
Could the Giants use an energetic, athletic linebacker? I'd say yes. The question, of course, is will he be worth the money the Giants will pay him, and what role will he play. I think he has a legitimate chance to win a starting job for the Giants, and that's not a slight against the other players on the roster.
This first play was never going to be a success. It starts over on the right side, where instead of blocking, John Jerry fell on the ground. Next to him, J.D. Walton kinda bounces off the Jags' front seven. So, instead finding a hole between the center and right guard, Jennings just finds his teammates and a Jaguars linebacker. That holds him up enough that Thomas, who gets a free run so Weston Richburg can block the nose tackle while Walton works up to the second level, is able to shoot the gap and make the tackle from behind.
While the play was basically doomed from the start, look at Thomas' eyes before the snap. He's reading Walton's first step. When he sees Walton move to the right rather than take on the nose tackle, he knows that Richburg is going to be blocking the nose and exactly where the hole will be. He immediately goes through the hole and shows some nice feet and agility to avoid the trash and get to Jennings.
There are a few nice things to see in this play.
First, watch Weston Richburg and how quickly he pulls from the left guard spot over to the tight end spot to help blow open a hole for Jennings. Well, tries to anyway. I think he actually gets there too fast and winds up blowing up Fells, rather than taking out a scraping linebacker.
Now, watch Thomas. He starts moving to where the play is going as soon as the ball is snapped, and basically mirrors Jennings. Again, he shows off the athleticism to flow to the ball without getting caught in the trash, then the strength to wrap up and stop the 225-pound Rashad Jennings over Daniel Fells, who is trying to push his teammate into the end zone.
Now let's get into his pass coverage. Thomas is playing the true middle linebacker, stacked over the center while the front is set up for rushing Eli. He quickly drops into coverage in a shallow zone, but shades his hips to the offensive left side, because he knows number 50 and the safety have the offensive right side covered. He is reading Eli's eyes all the way, and breaks on the check-down pass as soon as Eli identifies Jennings and pulls the trigger.
Thomas really shows off his athleticism by getting upfield to get the stop on Jennings. But more than running the 30 or so yards to get to Jennings, he has to get around the official. It certainly helps that the defensive back holds Jennings up, and even if Thomas couldn't get there, a safety was coming from deep coverage to help out as well. The speed with which he sees where the play is going, then gets there is nice to see from our new linebacker. As is the tackle at the end.
This is my favorite play, so I saved it for last. Unfortunately, part of what makes it so good got cut off, which makes me sad.
The play starts out with a run-action fake to Andre Williams. Of course, the entire defense sucks down to defend Williams. The fake then becomes a fake Jet Sweep to Odell Beckham Jr. This, of course, causes the defense to key on Beckham, and pursue him to the offensive left.
This is where the gif starts. Thomas is back by the original line of scrimmage, trying to defend the Beckham sweep. However, he was one of the first defenders to realize that Beckham didn't have the ball, and that it was in fact a screen pass. He flips his hips and turns on the jets to tackle Andre Williams from behind.
Now, this shows one of Thomas' weaknesses: He can be prone to biting on play fakes. Though to his credit, it was the second fake of the play, to one of the most dangerous offensive players in the league, who was the focus of the Giants' offense.
However, it also shows his quick recognition to see the fake, then his athleticism to still make the play.
But what really makes this my favorite play are the possibilities. Receiving the screen is Williams, and blocking for him are Walton, Jerry, and Adam Snyder.
Now close your eyes for a minute and picture this play with Weston Richburg, Geoff Schwartz, and Justin Pugh blocking for Shane Vereen. This play is going for a touchdown.
So, did the Giants actually make a good deal in signing Thomas? Well, that's impossible to judge months before he even takes a pre-season snap. However, I'm going to disagree with Pro Football Focus and Bill Barnwell. Based on what I've seen of him, J.T. Thomas could wind up being a good signing.
PFF is a useful tool, but it is just one tool. They probably graded Thomas negatively on Play 4. He bit hard on a play fake and was drawn way out of position. But the quick recovery, athleticism, and hustle are very positive traits. There are times when he is also victimized by teammate's poor play. He didn't have anyone around him like John Hankins, Jason Pierre-Paul or Robert Ayers.
It remains to be seen what the Giants will get for their money, but I've seen enough to be hopeful that Thomas could quickly become a significant contributor for the Giants.