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Tuls | CB Jordan Thomas facing a make or break year

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Scouting Notes

Tuls | CB Jordan Thomas facing a make or break year

One of the key players for the Oklahoma Sooners and their playoff hopes this upcoming season is senior cornerback Jordan Thomas. With seven interceptions, 20 pass breakups and 24 games started over the past two seasons, Thomas has been named to the All-Big 12 first and second team respectively.

Numbers like that at a marquee program puts a prospect in the draft spotlight, plain and simple. There are even some who believe Thomas is a favorite to be a first round pick in 2018. The 6’0, 185 lb. cornerback from Klein, Texas undoubtedly has talent, but I am here to pump the brakes on any early round draft hype of Jordan Thomas.

Despite the success proven by Thomas over the past two seasons, this is a make-or-break year for him in terms of his NFL draft outlook. Technically, he is not as proficient as I thought he would be in man coverage heading into his senior season. As I talked about in my notes on MJ Stewart, patience is one of the root traits in man coverage at the cornerback position.

If a player is unable to play with reactionary quickness or instincts, and instead guesses where the receiver goes, the rest of that player’s skill set falls apart. With Jordan Thomas, this is an alarming issue.

The biggest problem with Thomas is that plays like this against Texas Tech happen too often with him in off-man coverage. As a wide receiver, the easiest cornerbacks to beat are the ones that are predictable with their hips and feet. Anxious cornerbacks are easy to deceive because each time the receiver makes a subtle move, players like Thomas will either flip their hips too early or take a false step.

In the NFL, this man coverage anxiety will get picked on each snap. From a wide receiver’s point of view, he is predictable, but from a coach’s perspective? He is unpredictable at the position. This makes for a scary combination, and it’s not the good kind of scary either.

Again, Thomas is put on skates because he tries to anticipate where the receiver goes, instead of reacting. When he guesses right, he gets another play added to his highlight reel, but when he does not, which is often the case, it gets ugly. On this play, he is at the LOS, as opposed to off-man coverage. This route is tough to guard, but he was off balance from the snap. This allowed the receiver to gain leverage and break outside with ease.

What is maddening about Thomas is that he has the athletic tools to run and play with reactionary quickness, but he ends up so anxious in man coverage that it is easy for receivers to move and manipulate him. As a senior, I am not sure how much these habits are going to change, but he needs to slow the game down if he wants any chance of playing meaningful snaps at the next level.

When playing in zone coverage or with safety help, Jordan Thomas has the playmaking ability to make quarterbacks pay. He can sit on routes and prey underneath with nice closing speed. The big key, however, is his elite ball skills. One of the boxes cornerback prospects need to check is if their ball production matches their ball skills.

With Thomas, it is not even a question, especially when the play is in front of him. When he turns his back to the ball, he is a little inconsistent, but he has shown enough flashes to continue progress there. Whether it is Cover 2 or Cover 3, Thomas reads quarterbacks’ eyes like books. He gets in position to make these plays mostly due to his terrific path angles in zone. If Thomas is asked to read and react with help and not on an island, he plays with confidence, as opposed to anxiety.

As confident as Thomas is in zone coverage, he is just as good when asked to read and attack underneath in run support. His mindset as a run defender is to go balls to the wall when he gets his read, and whether it is a home run or a strike out, it is good to see a cornerback who prioritizes his aggressiveness in this facet of the game. Most cornerbacks at this level, and even the next level, shy away from contact in run support, but Thomas is different.

While it is not evident on this given play, Thomas’ aggressiveness does bite him back on occasion. His pursuit angles are typically on point, but his timing when breaking down in the open field is wildly inconsistent. Nonetheless, his play strength to fight off blocks and aggressive mindset in run support is a promising part of his game.

Overall, Jordan Thomas has a chance to be a good player at the next level, if used correctly. If a team drafts him without a plan and the intention of playing him on an island, he will struggle to find success. Instead, he needs to play with help, whether it is with a safety over the top and allowing him to play everything underneath, or just playing strictly zone coverage. This is where Thomas plays with confidence and reactionary quickness, as opposed to man coverage, off-man or Press, where he plays with predictable anxiety, which makes it easy for receivers to move and manipulate him.

Personally, I’m not giving a cornerback an early round draft grade who has the deficiencies in man coverage that Jordan Thomas has. On the other hand, I do acknowledge he has the playmaking ability and athletic tools to get on the field at the next level as a valuable zone asset. Will his habits change as a senior? I do not think so, and unless he shows improvement in man coverage route discipline, he will not come close to warranting the early round draft hype.

In fact, he’s going to need this make-or-break senior season to show scouts he is worthy of being drafted higher than the fourth round, when it is all said and done.

Jonah Tuls

Tuls is one of the lead NFL Draft analysts for Draftbreakdown.com and has been a key contributor to several other NFL Draft sites in recent years. At Draftbreakdown, Tuls provides macro-oriented NFL Draft coverage, including comprehensive player rankings, mock drafts and big boards for the site. Tuls has worked with some of the NDT Scouting staff previously before; he worked with National Scout Jon Ledyard to form the core of USA Today’s Draft Wire site for the 2016 NFL Draft season. His work there was centered around draft reports, with additional analysis and breaking news efforts as well.

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