Leading up to the NFL draft, college prospects rapidly rise and fall out of favor in the eyes of NFL franchises. In the past, many big name prospects who seemed like surefire first round picks during their collegiate careers have taken a free fall to the bottom of the draft once the true evaluation process began, while virtual unknowns have sky-rocketed to being top 15 selections. Often times a player’s stock can rise due to great game tape, an incredible workout at the combine or a pro day, or even from testing well during interviews with pro coaches and general managers. On the other hand, a prospect’s stock can drop due to lackluster game performance, poor decision making both on and off the field, and sometimes even due to a team’s own over-analysis and nit-picking. One such player whose stock had been steadily trending upward since the close of the collegiate season was NFL offensive line prospect Brandon Thomas, or at least that was until he suffered a torn ACL in a workout last week.
Thomas had been brought in to New Orleans for a private session with the Saints and sustained the injury during a non-contact drill. It was his seventh such workout with an NFL franchise, as the versatile 6-foot-3, 317 pound lineman had been developing interest across the league ever since his stellar 2013 performance against defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the possible first overall selection in this year’s draft. His impressive practices at the Senior Bowl only cemented his status as a potential longtime starter in the NFL. He had been projected as high as a third, possibly even a second round selection, but after suffering a major injury just a month before the draft, Thomas will surely tumble down many draft boards.
Though, it is possible that a team stocked full with draft picks such as San Francisco could take a flier on the offensive lineman in the hopes that he regains his form for the future. With depth concerns along the offensive line already, and Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati not only recovering from his own knee injury but also nearing the end of his contract, it would make sense for the 49ers to gain some insurance. It would not be the first time San Francisco took a gamble on an injured player either, as they drafted running back Marcus Lattimore and defensive lineman Tank Carradine in last year’s draft knowing full well that they may not gain either player’s services until the following season. If it turns out that the 49ers happen to see something they really like in the prospect Thomas, despite his torn ACL, do not be surprised if they pull the trigger and select him somewhere in the middle rounds of the draft.
Thomas played both guard and tackle in his freshman and sophomore seasons at Clemson University before permanently shifting to the left tackle position as a junior and senior. Not only did he excel out on the edge, but he was named to the All-ACC first team the last two years consecutively. Some scouts claim that Thomas is best suited to kick inside and play the guard position in the NFL, while others say that he does not have the power to drive defenders off the line and therefore may have problems with the bigger-bodied defenders of the pro game. Some teams may view Thomas as not having a defined position at the pro level, others will love his versatility along the offensive line and consider him a valuable depth player early on with the potential to carve a productive career as a starter in the future. Though, the knee injury may cause him to fall in the draft, the team that takes a chance on the Clemson star may strike gold in the years to come.
The draft is a very inexact science where often luck and circumstance play just as big a role as the evaluation process. NFL hopefuls constantly move up and down draft boards based upon their game play, workouts and character assessment, though, there is always that outside threat of injury which no athlete wishes to encounter. Offensive line prospect Brandon Thomas now finds himself in that unfortunate circumstance after tearing his ACL, but he will soon begin the long road to rehabilitation, and hopefully, he will be playing on Sundays in the not too distant future.
Commentary by Kalen Skalesky