Known more as a blocker, the potential flashed by Ian Thomas as a receiver is why he will be one of the first tight ends selected in the 2018 NFL Draft…
Ian Thomas, a 2016 three-star recruit, started 11 of 23 career games at Indiana. He spent the first two seasons of his career at Nassau Community College where he caught 27 passes before transferring to the Hoosiers. He played in every game as a junior and missed both the Charleston Southern (precautionary reasons) and Michigan State (soreness) games as a senior.
In 2016, his first at Indiana, Thomas caught three passes for 28 yards. His production increased in 2017 as he caught 25 passes for 376 yards and five touchdowns on his way to being named all-Big Ten honorable mention. He played for three head coaches and three offensive coordinators during his college career.
Thomas earned invitations to the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine. He possesses solid size and length on a balanced frame with adequate athletic ability.
Age: 21 (June 6, 1996)
Height: 6’3” 5/8
Weight: 259 lbs.
Arm: 32-1/2 inches
Hand: 10 inches
40-Yard Dash: 4.74 seconds
10-Yard Split: 1.56 seconds
Vertical Jump: 36 inches
Indiana Hoosiers Football
Broad Jump: 10’3”
3-Cone Drill: 7.15 seconds
Short Shuttle: 4.20 seconds
Ian Thomas gets a solid release against press coverage as he fights through contact and quickly begins the stem of his route. He demonstrates very good awareness as he finds the hole in the defense against zone coverage and looks for the ball quickly on blitzes.
Those instincts can be seen on the following play from the Penn State game. The linebacker lined up across from Thomas blitzes and the tight end quickly turns his head around to haul in the pass on a shallow out route.
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Thomas tracks the ball well in the air and won’t lose sight of it as he moves through traffic. He displays very good leaping ability and body control as he adjusts to passes around his frame. He possesses strong hands to snatch the ball out of the air with the strength to hold on through contact.
After the catch, Thomas turns upfield quickly, showcasing a solid burst. He exhibits good play strength as he utilizes a strong stiff arm and powerful legs to generate yards after the catch. Virginia’s Quin Blanding, one of the better safeties in all of college football and a teammate of Thomas at the Senior Bowl, was the victim of one of the tight end’s go-to moves.
On the play, Thomas lines up as the in-line tight end to the left of the formation. After clearing the two linebackers, he’s left wide open in the middle of the field for an easy reception. After turning upfield, Thomas squares up Blanding and delivers a vicious stiff arm to the safety. This move allows Thomas to pick up an additional six yards on the play plus a 15-yard facemask penalty that was called on the safety.
Thomas displays very good competitive toughness as he’s a willing blocker in both the pass and run games. Solid play speed allows him to pull and seal the weakside or climb to the second level of the defense. He’s a patient pass blocker who demonstrates good posture and initiates contact with his hands rather than his head or body. He keeps his knees bent and is able to fuel blocks with a strong lower body. Two examples of his blocking ability can be seen below.
Against Penn State, Thomas is off the line of scrimmage next to the right tackle. The edge rusher attempts to sneak through the gap vacated by the right tackle off the snap. Thomas does a very good job of getting under the defender’s pads and turning him away from the play. The defender is forced off balance and with a little help from the right tackle’s leg, is thrown to the ground, creating a running lane for the ball carrier.
In the second example, Thomas is to the left of the formation and matched up against Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary, a projected first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Once again, Thomas gets under the defender’s pads and drives him away from the play. As Thomas seals the edge, the running back bursts through for a 31-yard gain.
When given a free release, Thomas displays marginal explosiveness as he’s slow off the snap. Here’s an example of his delayed reaction to the ball being snapped.
Once he gets going, Thomas demonstrates adequate acceleration through the stem of his route. When he reaches the top, marginal agility hampers his ability to run crisp routes. As a result of marginal change of direction skills, he rounds off the routes and is unable to create separation as defenders are able to remain close. His lack of separation quickness comes into play on deep routes as well. One-on-one with linebacker Jerome Baker of Ohio State, Thomas runs a wheel route. He’s unable to create separation at any point in the route and is forced toward the sideline, shrinking the window for his quarterback to place the football. The result is an incomplete pass.
After the catch, Thomas displays poor elusiveness and will try to run over defenders rather than even attempt to elude them in the open field. Despite being a powerful runner, he won’t break tackles once contacted by a defender, limiting his ability to maximize yards after the catch.
As a blocker, Thomas is slow off the snap. He struggles to locate defenders on the move, whether he’s pulling or on the second level. He displays adequate aggressiveness and will release the defender prematurely.
Overall, Ian Thomas is a developmental tight end at the next level who wins with strong hands and his ability to block. He’s not someone who should be flexed out wide on a consistent basis. He’s best suited to play as an in-line tight end where he can act as a blocker in the run game and find the hole in the defense against zone coverage.
Thomas is an extremely raw tight end who wasn’t asked to do much at Indiana. He ran a very limited route tree consisting mostly of shallow crosses and curls, however he did prove capable of running a wider variety of routes when given the opportunity. He needs to refine his route running by making crisper cuts to create separation, but this should come with added reps.
Thomas is very similar to former tight end Ben Hartsock. Hartsock was primarily a blocking tight end at Ohio State, catching just 24 passes in his first three seasons. Much like with Thomas, Hartsock became a viable receiving threat his senior year, catching 33 passes for the Buckeyes. He would be selected in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts and played 10 seasons in the league.
With a receiving tight end in Dallas Clark, the Colts never took the time to develop Hartsock as anything more than a blocker and he finished his decade-long career with just 31 receptions. Whichever team selects Thomas in the 2018 NFL Draft will need to do a better job of developing his pass-catching skills in order for him to become a complete tight end.