Let’s take a look at one of the best in-line tight end prospects in the 2018 NFL draft, Ian Thomas out of Indiana University.
Height: 6’ 4”
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland
Born: June 6, 1996 (age 21 on draft day)
Honors: Senior Bowl, John Mackey Tight End of the Week Award, Honorable Mention All Big Ten
2016: 2 Games, 3 receptions, 28 yards (9.3 Y/R), 0 touchdowns
2017: 9 games, 25 receptions, 376 yards (15.0 Y/R), 5 touchdowns
I watched the following games from Ian Thomas’ 2017 season: Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Rutgers.
- Well built, physically imposing player with a large catch radius and a big frame that can add more bulk.
- Good speed for his size; may be the fastest tight end in the draft.
- Good hands, at times makes difficult catches look easy.
- Smooth and athletic for his size.
- Physical in his route running and after the catch; inflicts punishment on defensive backs trying to bring him down.
- Surprisingly nimble in his footwork.
- Willing and effective in college pass and run blocking, at times dominated defensive ends.
- Big play potential; led Indiana’s team in yards per catch as a tight end, 4th in the country among tight ends in yards per catch.
- Uses size effectively in establishing position, shielding defenders and high pointing the ball.
- Excellent body control; adjusts to inaccurate passes easily and effectively.
- Very raw, with little college experience. Will need a year or two to adjust to NFL.
- Blocking technique needs work. Hand placement often poor, allowing defender to get inside him. Power and drive too easily neutralized by sloppy blocking technique. Can struggle blocking on the move.
- Needs work on route running. Not always sharp in and out of breaks. Doesn’t set up defenders well. Limited route tree in college.
- Long strider that takes time building to top speed. Lacks elite explosiveness.
- At times too physical as a receiver, might have benefited from eluding defenders rather than trying to steamroll them.
Draft Grade: Rounds 3-5
Ian Thomas has a compelling back story. His mother died when he was 8 years old when an abscessed tooth led to liver and kidney failure. Thomas’ father died of a heart attack a year later, leaving his eight siblings and Ian orphaned. Thomas was raised from the age of nine by his older siblings. After a three sport high school athletic career Thomas went on to play tight end at Nassau Community College, where he was rated the second best junior college tight end in the country. Indiana University offered him a scholarship and Thomas joined the Hoosiers, where he mostly sat the bench his junior year. His senior year Thomas came into his own and became an important part of the Hoosiers offense.
Ian Thomas has limited experience playing past the community college level, and it shows in raw technique both in blocking and in route running. At this point he is more project than polished prospect, and he will take time to develop at the NFL level. However, there is a lot to like about this project. Thomas has prototypical size and strength for an NFL in line tight end and he isn’t afraid to use it. He blocks with enthusiasm and when he uses good technique he is a powerful and effective blocker in both the running and passing game. With proper coaching Thomas has the tools to develop into a top blocking tight end in the NFL.
If that was all there was to like about Ian Thomas’ NFL potential he wouldn’t be worth a draft pick. Thomas, however, has the potential to develop into an outstanding NFL receiving tight end as well. Thomas is probably the fastest tight end in this year’s NFL draft, with the potential to run in the low 4.6s in the 40 yard dash. He also has excellent athleticism and outstanding body control. He makes one handed catches with ease and adjusts beautifully to errant throws on the fly. Thomas also effectively uses his size and strength to establish position and bully defensive backs. He has the potential to be a matchup problem at the next level, too fast and athletic for most linebackers to cover and too big and physical for most defensive backs. If Thomas had another year of development in college he might be a fringe first round draft pick. As it is he is very talented but very raw, increasing the risk in selecting him and lowering his draft stock.
Ian Thomas is purported to be humble and he takes well to coaching. A patient coaching staff that puts in the work refining Thomas’ game could well end up with the best dual threat tight end in the 2018 draft, and one of the best tight ends in the NFL. On the other hand Thomas could fail to develop, and since he is more raw than many prospects that would likely mean very limited effectiveness in the NFL.
Given the rawness of Thomas as an NFL prospect I would hesitate to take him as high as the Jets high 3rd round pick. I would be happy to take him in the 4th round, however, and if the Jets were to acquire a 5th round pick I would be excited to get Thomas that late. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Thomas ends up as the best tight end in the 2018 draft class when all is said and done.
Here are some game tapes for you to check out Ian Thomas yourself: