Since the completion of the 2013 NFL Draft, one of my personal projects is always to go back and review all of the prospects selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even with the countless hours of games I watch during the season, as a Steelers fan and draft analyst, it’s part of my routine to re-watch everything I have on the players the Steelers select in hopes of gleaning a better understanding not only of what kind of player they were in college, but to better project their role on the Steelers team.
This time, I am breaking down Syracuse-safety Shamarko Thomas, who the Steelers drafted in the 4th round of the draft. Thomas slid a little from where many pundits, myself included, based on what was perceived as a lack of ideal height and problems in coverage. He’s been labeled as a pure strong-safety prospect and couldn’t be a complete NFL safety prospect. But as I reviewed several games from 2012, I saw something different.
Clearly, the run-stopping skills are there. Syracuse dropped Thomas into the box; often no more than four or five yards off the line of scrimmage on obvious run downs, and he did a very good job as a read and react type player. His speed and good angles allow him that split sense to break down the play, and believe it when I saw he finishes like a bus wreck. Sound tackling and effort results in lots of plus plays.
So as I broke Thomas down on passing downs, I expected to see him playing deep middle or halves, allowing him to read and react like he does in the run game, but it wasn’t that at all. In plenty of plays, Thomas was line up in man; in some cases, press man against slot receivers. His technique was far from polished, but he was physical at the line, jamming receivers. When a receiver got a release, he used his speed to trail. I’m not saying he can be a nickel corner, but the notion that he cannot play coverage and is purely a strong safety, is hokum. This young man lined up all over the field for the Orangemen and did an admirable job, often being asked to cover players must larger and more athletic than him. He never backed down. He never let up for a second.
I look forward to seeing Thomas in the black and gold this season and for many seasons to come. He is exactly what the Steelers want in a safety and should be an excellent fit right away.