Draft Spotlight: Earl Thomas
The Niners head into the season with Dashon Goldson at safety and…well that is about it. Mark Roman isn’t going to go back, at least I hope not. Reggie Smith can’t seem to stay healthy and get on the field and Michael Lewis is another concussion away from retirement. So will the 49ers take a look at a safety at pick 13/17. With top candidate off the board in Eric Berry of Tennessee, the 49ers most likely would turn to Texas safety Earl Thomas. There is a chance USC safety Taylor Mays may draw some interest, but in all likelihood Thomas would be the 49ers man at safety.
Thomas is an undersized safety with great straight-line speed. He is an excellent athlete who has good hips and quickness for the safety position. He is competitive athlete who will fill the alley, but scouts question his effectiveness at the next level in that role. He is a solid open-field tackler, leveraging the ball well in the open field. He is an instinctive player who anticipates break points well to make plays in the passing game. He has excellent ball skills and has big-play potential when he makes the interception. Thomas is a very good football player who lacks ideal size but has high value in this year’s draft.
Read & React: Recognizes what’s coming quickly and has the speed to get to the spot to make a play. As a safety, he was a bit overaggressive, biting on play-action and underneath routes which leaves cornerbacks on an island.
Man Coverage: Needs technique work before making the move to cornerback. Backpedal is high and slow, and lags in recovery on double moves and catching up to receivers running quick outs or square-ins. Has the speed to turn and run with receivers.
Zone Coverage: Attacks throws in front of him and has good range as a safety. Can make the interception or a big hit to separate the man from the ball. Makes quarterbacks pay for late throws over the middle, baiting them into making poor decisions. Excellent hand-eye coordination.
Closing/Recovery: Very good burst and closing speed to the ball. Wins most battles for the ball in the air. Slow to plant and drive in coverage but can close when the play is in front of him. Recovers from false steps to get back to receivers.
Run Support: Willing to support the run. Flies into the action at full speed, pounding backs in the open field. Will overpursue and fail to break down, missing tackles. Will struggle to get off receiver or lineman blocks.
Tackling: Inconsistent as a tackler in space despite good statistics. Larger receivers and tough running backs run through his tackles in space. Ends up riding big receivers for a few yards before bringing them down. A special teams force in college and will be used there in the pros.
Intangibles: Heady, hard-working player on the practice field and in the weight room. Directs secondary and knows teammates’ assignments. Father Earl Thomas, Sr., is a pastor.
Thomas is a ball-hawking safety with very good straight-line speed. Elite athlete with fluid hips who follows the quarterback’s eyes and consistently jumps routes. Has the elusiveness to make people miss in space and can take an interception back to the house. Tough competitor who will fill in the running game and does not shy away from contact. Good tackler.
Thomas is lean and not very tall and may not have the strength to make plays inside the box at the next level. Size will also limit effectiveness against larger inside receivers who can out muscle him for the ball.