Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at each of the Jets draft picks. We’re now going to start looking at each of the undrafted rookies, beginning with an in-depth look at Middle Tennessee State linebacker DQ Thomas.
The 23-year old Thomas is listed at 6’2” and 216 pounds and was a second-team all-Conference USA selection in 2021. He racked up 309 tackles, including 53 for loss with 20.5 sacks and two interceptions in five seasons with the Blue Raiders.
Thomas was a three-star prospect out of high school and headed to Middle Tennessee where he made one start as a true freshman. He ended up with nine tackles and two sacks in his first season.
For the next four seasons, Thomas was a productive starter. He led the team with eight sacks in 2018 and was an all-conference honorable mention. His final season saw him ranked second in the conference with 17 tackles for loss and he also set a career-high with 89 total tackles and recorded the first two interceptions of his career. He also scored a defensive touchdown.
He ended his career as the school’s all-time leader in tackles for loss and was also tied for the school record in games played and third in career sacks.
After his final season, Thomas wasn’t invited to the scouting combine but did participate in the Shrine Bowl.
The Jets signed Thomas as an undrafted rookie, guaranteeing him $130K of salary in his contract.
Now let’s take a look at what Thomas brings to the table, divided into categories.
Thomas is undersized, although we know this isn’t a major issue for linebackers in the Jets’ system. Although the Jets list him as 216 pounds, he actually weighed in at 226 at his pro day and he has a long wingspan.
His pro day workout numbers were above average across the board, including a 4.67 in the 40-yard dash and a 35-inch vertical. He lettered in powerlifting while in high school.
Thomas was an off-ball linebacker in college, occasionally matching up in the slot or coming up to the line of scrimmage before the snap. He’d probably play a similar role at the NFL level.
Thomas has been a productive run defender who is at his best when he can be kept clean and react to the action in front of him.
However, he will sometimes be over-aggressive, can bite on misdirection and struggles to get off blocks. He has good range in pursuit but will take bad angles at times.
If he can use his quickness to avoid blockers, he can be an effective run defender both on the outside and in between the tackles.
Thomas was primarily employed in zone coverage where he showed some ability to react and make plays on the ball with two interceptions and seven pass breakups in his career.
His numbers in college were adequate, as his role primarily involved him limiting the damage on short passes. He only gave up three passes for more than 20 yards in his five-year career, all of which were in 2018. Two of these were blown coverages and the other was on a screen pass where he got blocked out of the play as it’s rare that he’ll drop deep.
He showed playmaking ability on this pick six, although the interception itself was more a case of being in the right place at the right time.
Here’s a touchdown pass where Thomas was late to react and pick up the open receiver underneath.
Thomas’ tackle efficiency in his final season was solid, as he was in the top 20 in the nation among linebackers per PFF. He had, however, had issues with missed tackles in the past, including 14 in 2019.
Although he doesn’t miss many tackles, he often has issues with being completely squared up to a ball carrier, leading to them dragging him for extra yards or falling forwards to get to the marker rather than being stopped in their tracks. In addition, Thomas also can take over-aggressive angles as previously noted.
One thing he does have a knack for is forcing fumbles, racking up a total of eight in his career.
Thomas has had some good success as a pass rusher, with 20.5 sacks in his career, including eight in 2018, and a good pressure rate. While many of these just come from his closing speed when coming unblocked on a blitz or cleaning up when spying a quarterback, he does have a knack for beating blockers off the edge or up the middle.
Many of his eight forced fumbles came on pass rushes, including this one that led to a defensive score.
Thomas has plenty of experience as a special teamer, and has a skill-set which could make this one of the main reasons for a team like the Jets to bring him aboard.
He wasn’t wildly productive on special teams, though, with three special teams tackles in his career, including none in 2019, 2020 or 2021 as his special teams role was reduced.
On this play, he was late to react to the fake punt and got blocked out of the play for a first down conversion.
Thomas isn’t afraid to take on blockers aggressively but can struggle to get off blocks in space. He doesn’t have much experience of re-routing receivers in coverage, but will get his hands dirty cleaning up in the running game.
In his entire career, he only had one defensive penalty which was for jumping offside. He had another three on special teams including one personal foul and an illegal block.
Unfortunately, there are quite a few examples of Thomas making the wrong read, running himself out of plays, showing poor awareness of down blocks or blowing coverages.
As noted, he’s more comfortable when coming downhill and reacting to the action in front of him, which could limit him at the next level.
This could be an area that will hold Thomas back from being an early contributor with the Jets, who may need to coach him up in this area.
Thomas was another player who was a team captain in college and is regarded as someone with leadership and a good work ethic.
As noted, his on-field discipline was good and he hasn’t had any off-field issues or character concerns.
Thomas didn’t have any injury issues in college, as he tied a team record by playing in 55 games. He also showed some durability by averaging over 60 snaps per game in each of his last four seasons.
As a small, athletic linebacker with a long wingspan, Thomas fits the profile that the Jets often look for in their linebackers. However, the fact that he only really played zone defense in coverage and made mistakes at times in the Blue Raiders system might mean it takes some time for him to be ready to contribute on defense.
At Middle Tennessee he was a teammate of current Jets safety Jovante Moffatt for three seasons.
The fact the Jets guaranteed $130K of Thomas’ contract suggests they plan to keep him around, although they may have a practice squad spot earmarked for him rather than a main roster role.
He’s been someone who fills up the stat sheet, has good measurables and shows some good potential. However, there are some areas where he needs to be coached up.
The Jets presumably see Thomas as a good developmental prospect who could contribute on special teams, but he’s probably a year or two away from being ready to make any impact defensively.