NFL Draft

2018 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Florida State ILB Matthew Thomas

With the draft over and our profiles on all seven of the Pittsburgh Steelers draft picks complete, we’re dipping our toe into the undrafted territory. We profiled a couple of them before the draft but most of the 13, we didn’t. Today, we’re looking one of the high profile UDFAs, Florida State inside linebacker Matthew Thomas.

#6 Matthew Thomas/ILB Florida State – 6’2/6 232

The Good

– Elite athlete who moves like a safety, sideline-to-sideline range (tested as such in workouts)
– Impact player who creates chaos when he’s able to track the ball and stay clean
– Closes quickly on the ball and excellent at stopping outside zone/perimeter runs
– Able to carry running backs and tight ends vertically in man to man, gets depth in zone coverage, capable of tracking the ball in the air
– Aggressive mentality versus the run, best when asked to shoot gaps and play downhill
– Excellent productive over his junior and senior seasons

The Bad

– Inconsistent player with as many lows as highs in his game
– Struggles to process, late reading run/pass keys and has shown trouble being able to find the football
– Want to see the same player every snap, effort can wane as play progresses, want to see him play through the whistle
– Struggles to disengage from blocks, even versus tight ends, in the run game, significantly better when he’s allowed to flow cleanly
– Needs to stay square to blocks and not get himself turned
– Saw a few snaps on the edge but an unsuccessful pass rusher
– Reported off-field concerns and injury history

Bio

– 27 career starts, started every game the last two years
– Career: 191 tackles, 25.5 TFL 4 sacks, 1 INT
– 2017: 85 tackles, 10 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT
– Ran 4.58 at Combine, jumped 41.5 in vert, 10’11” broad, 6.85 three cone
– Had season-ending shoulder surgery in 2013, suspended six games in 2014 due to NCAA rules violation, ruled academically ineligible for all of 2015, missed fall of 2014 due to ankle injury, did not play in 2017 bowl game
– Five-star recruit coming out of high school, sought after by practically every school in college football
– Ejected for targeting at least twice in college football career

Tape Breakdown

The phrase gets thrown around plenty but Matthew Thomas is clearly a “boom/bust” prospect. In one game, Thomas can look like a top draft pick and an undraftable prospect all at the same time. We’ll look at both today. But bottom line is, if Thomas can play as a more consistent player, the Steelers might have something.

Let’s start with the good. When Thomas is able to find the football and react, he looks like a mini-Ryan Shazier. The athleticism to get to his spot, how tough it is for offensive linemen to climb and reach him, and his ability to force backs inside on perimeter runs, or run them out along the sideline. Here’s an example of the latter. Thomas is #6.

Or here. Comes across the formation, scrapes across, and makes a nice stick at the line of scrimmage.

But for as good as it looks in moments, it can look equally bad in others. Lot of trouble finding the ball, slow to process, late to react. Struggled a lot against Louisville, way late locating the ball as the back takes off down the sideline for six.

And there’s times where he just doesn’t finish the play. Looks lost – or disinterested. Just sorta of…stands there as the play is still unfolding. Had he keyed it the whole way through, maybe he’s able to make a play on the goal line. Instead, he’s late to react and gets smacked by the tight end on the goal line, the final block to let the QB score.

Or here. Same game, earlier versus Boston College. I guess you could try to argue Thomas didn’t want to tackle the tight end in the end zone, or knock the DB off the attempt, but I see it as a guy just standing there and watching it all unfold. Not something he can get away with in the NFL.

Then there’s the whole off-field background. It’s messy, hard for me or you to try to parse through and get to the bottom of, but clearly, a concern by NFL teams and one reason why he fell out of the draft. There is a hardship there that could be explained, his mother passed away in early 2015, the same year as his academic ineligibility, and it’s probably fair to assume those two things are related.  Still, there was a big backstory to try and swift through.

I have Thomas making my initial 53 man roster, in part due to his talent and in part due to lack of depth on the Steelers’ depth chart. Overall, he was still a great UDFA pickup. There is upside that someday, not today, he can become a starter. But until he becomes a more consistent, trusted player, on and off the field, that’s not something you can count on.

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