40 Time: 4.42
Arm: 31 1/2
Hand: 9 1/4
Projected Draft Position: Late 2nd – 4th
Hailing from Ocean Lakes High in Virginia, Shamarko Thomas was an All-Region, All-Tidewater and All-State First-Team selection. He also earned All-State honors in track, competing in the 100-meter dash and serving as the anchor of the 4 x 100 relay that placed seventh in the state.
As a true freshman in 2009, Thomas played in all 12 games for the Orange, including seven starts at linebacker, safety and cornerback. He finished the season with 30 tackles, 6.5 for loss, one sack, one forced fumble and one recovery on his way to earning a spot on ESPN’s All-Big East Freshman Team.
Thomas played in all 13 games his sophomore season, racking 38 tackles, 3.5 for loss, two sacks and a fumble recovery.
Despite getting hit with the injury bug his junior season, Thomas started in all 10 games he played, registering 47 tackles and three for loss for the 2011 season.
As a senior last year, Thomas was named one of four team captains on his way to earning All-Big East First-Team and ESPN’s All-Big East honors. He finished the season with 62 tackles, 3.5 for loss, one sack, two interceptions, three forced fumbles and a recovery.
Despite his lack in height for the position, Thomas packs a serious punch by way of a compact and thickly-built frame. He possesses an ideal combination of strength (28 reps) and speed (4.42), but not necessarily the size. For a safety like Thomas, however, who plays a little reckless and is willing to sacrifice his body, those traits work well in combination with his long arms to help make up for lost height.
Thomas is a versatile safety in that he can line-up in the box, play a receiver in the slot or drop deep. In terms of where he looks most comfortable, I would prefer Thomas close to the line, whether that be playing the run, blitzing or covering the slot.
Not to harp on his size, but most will show concern regarding Thomas in coverage based solely off his height. For me, that’s not what hurts him. I happen to like him in coverage. He’s physical off the line, he has the speed to keep up with guys and he appears pretty fluid.
My concern with Thomas in coverage rests with his instincts and route recognition.
When watching tape, Thomas was deceived by the slightest of head fakes and an agile receiver could easily run him off the route. It was most notable against quick pass-catchers and efficient route runners.
Against the run, Thomas is scrappy — willing to shoot the gap and sacrifice his body. He’s not a superb tackler, but he can fill a hole made by his defense and bring a guy down.
Despite not actually shedding blocks, Thomas has good pursuit in traffic, eluding guys and getting to the ball carrier. Due to his size, he’s more of a drag-down tackler / shoot-the-feet kind of tackler rather than a hammer. It’s not that Thomas doesn’t have the physical strength, I just can’t figure out when and where it’s best used on the football field.
Perhaps the biggest concern with Thomas is his discipline. Although shooting the gap with reckless abandon is fun to watch, Thomas makes it a habit, often times whiffing on tackles. When coming down from a slightly higher alignment, Thomas seems unable to contain his aggressiveness, leaving him out of position and the victim of poor angles. That’s why I prefer Thomas making plays in a phone booth with less space in front of him.
Thomas’ lack of discipline is also apparent in his one-on-one situations in the open-field. His aggressiveness carries his body’s momentum in one direction off the first move from the opposition and Thomas is left barely grabbing an ankle or jersey.
Although it’s great to see discipline rooted in a young player, that’s not the case with Thomas. He’ll have to learn it. Experience and an understanding that guys at the next level will make him pay by using one of the strong aspects of his own game against him will eventually make Thomas a better safety.
There’s a lot to like about Thomas, but he’s not a finished product. He’s not the guy you want starting for your team as a rookie. You’d rather bring him along in special teams — because he’ll be a starter there — and groom him at the safety position.
He’s somewhat of a tweener in that he’s short, yet strong and fast. Some may like him more as a physical corner, and that’s fine. But his size would make him a liability on the outside. Ideally, keeping him at safety and using him to cover the slot from time to time would be best.
Overall, Thomas is a great physical specimen and a team player. He was forced to grow up and mature extremely fast following family tragedy and he appears to be a committed football player both on and off the field. Any team that selects Thomas will have great tools to work with and a player that’s willing to be coached. Thomas has the potential to be a starter in a couple short years.